CHAMPION – Nearly 50 organizations who draw visitors into the Laurel Highlands received funds to market efforts to lure more crowds – across the region and beyond.
A total of $585,384 in Somerset County Tourism Grant program dollars was awarded Thursday to nonprofits, destinations and other tourism-related groups during a presentation at Seven Springs Mountain Resort, one of the program’s 49 recipients, county officials and the Laurel Highlands Visitors Bureau announced.
Thanks to a growing Somerset County Lodging Tax fund, the event marked the first time every single applicant received a check – ranging from $1,097 for a new Rockwood lodge to create signage and brochures to $90,0000 enabling Seven Springs to market its resorts to major markets including Washington, D.C., and Baltimore.
“Every one of you make a huge impact on tourism,” Laurel Highlands Visitors Bureau Chairman Eric Mauck said. “And it’s all of us collectively working together to create the brand of the Laurel Highlands.”
For Jennerstown Speedway, $88,451 in marketing grants will enable track operators to promote some of its biggest 2020 events, including a NASCAR modified series race that’ll bring drivers from across the country, co-owner Larry Hemminger said.
“We’re bringing major events this year – including the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour – but it costs a fortune to bring races like this,” Hemminger said of the Whelen Modified race.
It’s been a few decades since this level of NASCAR’s modifieds have lined up on Jennerstown’s oval and Hemminger said he plans to advertise it through newspapers and television to “get the word out.”
For the the Somerset County Rails to Trails Association, $8,712 in funds will cover the cost to staff the Rockwood Trail Station visitors center near the Great Allegheny Passage, while a $7,500 marketing grant will allow Arcadia Theater to develop a multimedia outreach campaign targeting areas outside the Greater Johnstown region, the group announced.
“We’ve had a lot of success over the years reaching the local audience – to bring people into Windber to see the professional entertainment we bring every month,” said Christine Strugala, Arcadia’s assistant director.
“Through social media advertising and other efforts, we’ll be able to show people there’s a hidden gem right here – within a drive of an hour or two away.”
More than 40 groups received funding to market their organizations’ offerings, including the September 11 National Memorial Trail Alliance, which received $3,750 to raise awareness about their trail development effort.
Five groups, including Brantview Farms Maple outside Berlin, Donges Drive-in Restaurant and Mountain Ridge Trails Resort near Central City, all received support to create or refresh websites.
The Somerset Garden Club said it was planning to use its allocation to make a different kind of first impression.
For years, the Garden Club has beautified the Somerset area, installing hanging baskets onto Somerset Borough’s light poles and maintaining 10 mini-gardens throughout the community – including the uptown Diamond and the Somerset County Courthouse.
Club members Jan Szych and Andrew Falcheck said their $2,939 award will allow their group to expand their annual planting day, potentially enabling them to beautify more areas, expanding their work at Trinity Park and The Patriot center.
“We’re excited,” Falcheck said.
Somerset County Commissioners work with the Visitors Bureau to administer the program, while a five-member committee of local leaders reviews grant applications.
Laurel Highlands Visitors Bureau officials said 40 percent of the county lodging tax is dedicated to the fund yearly, enabling $5.3 million in travel dollars to go back into the county to help its businesses grow.
“We’re dedicated to help you grow – and help the region grow,” said review committee member and former commissioner John “Pat” Terlingo.