Celebrating our Partners: Philanthropic and National Partners
Today’s Great Outdoors Month gratitude post goes to our philanthropic and national partners who are helping us revitalize rural communities in the PA Wilds by growing the region’s outdoor recreation economy.
Federal funding agencies like the Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC), and more recently EDA and USDA, have been critical investors in the PA Wilds effort, helping with key recreation infrastructure, regional capacity building and planning, marketing and branding, tech upgrades, regional commerce infrastructure, and small business development.
Often times, their funds are matched up to state funds, or contributions from local and national foundations.
For example, The Stackpole-Hall Foundation, DCNR, DCED, and ARC helped us get our flagship PA Wilds Conservation Shop opened at Kinzua Bridge State Park in 2016.
The Richard King Mellon Foundation and EDA helped us get our second store, a mobile unit, opened at Leonard Harrison State Park at the PA Grand Canyon.
These two locations have already moved close to $2M in locally-made products from the PA Wilds region, supporting local businesses while filling gaps in visitor services, raising funds for conservation through a charity checkout campaign, and helping with long-term sustainability of the PA Wilds effort.
Alongside this expansion, The First Community Foundation Partnership of Pennsylvania helped us do outreach on the eastern side of the region to build our rural supply chain to meet growing market demand for local products.
There are many other examples. State and federal funders often ask about philanthropic involvement in projects, and we are proud and grateful to have local, regional and national foundations at the table with us, especially knowing the many other pressing needs and causes these organizations support in rural communities.
Finally, there are national organizations whose work repeatedly shows up on our radar and helps inform and shape our own. This includes the Aspen Institute’s Community Strategies Group, the Outdoor Recreation Roundtable (ORR) and Quantified Ventures.
We connected with the Aspen Institute CSG team after their report on Rural Development Hubs defined in a new way the work of rural organizations like ours, and the many opportunities and challenges we face in trying to bring about positive change in distressed rural landscapes.
We’ve since participated in several feedback sessions with the CSG team as they conduct their research on different topics, and have huge respect for how they marry academic smarts with practitioner-level realities in their final reports.
We look forward to digging into their just released, “Measure Up: A Call To Action” and a second piece, “What (and Who) Counts? Defining Rural Development Success” which are packed with insights, quotes and recommendations for government, philanthropy and rural practitioners about how we can better define rural development success.
ORR is the nation’s leading coalition of outdoor recreation trade associations, made up of 35 national members, as well as other nonprofit organizations and business entities, serving more than 110,000 businesses. ORR has done incredible work building understanding among decision makers at the national level and with the public about sustainable outdoor recreation as an economic driver, and we appreciate the bi-partisan approach they take to it.
We met ORR’s Senior Director Chris Perkins when he was interviewing practitioners across the country for the Outdoor Recreation Roundtable Rural Economic Development Toolkit, a free resource for communities looking to grow their outdoor economies.
Perkins wrote in his support letter for our BBBRC application, that while ORR’s research has shown that there are useful models for aspects of outdoor recreation development in rural areas, our region’s BBBRC application would be “the first landscape where these would be applied holistically using an economic development framework, making it a powerful replicable model that can be used elsewhere in the country as this industry continues grow nationally and become an economic engine for rural areas in particular.”
We met Quantified Ventures, a consulting firm that focuses on “bold, investable solutions for people and planet,” in 2020 and they’ve been a valued partner with us in Phase 1 and 2 of our region’s Build Back Better Regional Challenge application.
In her support letter for our BBBRC application, Federal Co-Chair of the Appalachian Regional Commission, Gayle Manchin, wrote that the 13-state Appalachian Region has been especially hard hit in recent years, first by the financial crisis of 2008, next the loss of coal-related jobs, and now the global pandemic.
“The PA Wilds region has long been an exporter of its natural resources (timber, coal, oil and gas), critical resources that helped build America,” Manchin wrote. “EDA now has an opportunity to reverse that flow of capital by investing in these distressed depopulating communities and to reinvest in rural America. A Build Back Better grant would leverage the strategic investments made over the last two decades by the Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC), EDA and United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), along with those by the Commonwealth, philanthropies, and local partners.”
“These many investments,” Manchin wrote, “demonstrates the confidence that the public and private sector have in the future of this part of Northern Appalachia, and have laid the foundation for this emerging outdoor recreation industry cluster.”
The PA Wilds work would not be where it is today without the help of these many philanthropic and national partners!
About the Series:
To celebrate June being Great Outdoors Month, we are highlighting partners throughout June who are helping grow the outdoor recreation economy here in the PA Wilds to help revitalize rural communities. Our 13-county region is the only outdoor rec industry cluster to make it to the final round of the national Build Back Better Regional Challenge competition, where we are now competing for $50M in federal investment from the US Economic Development Administration. We couldn’t have made it this far without our incredible partners!
Learn more about the PA Wilds and the BBBRC competition here.
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