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Looking Ahead

What will tourism, community events look like in 2021?

Times Observer file photo The Trails at Jakes Rocks saw a significant increase in usage in 2020 as the COVID-19 pandemic restricted travel and forced people to look for outdoor recreation in our area. The WCCBI aims to bring the Jakes Rocks Trail Fest back in 2021 that would further highlight the gem that trail system has become.

Tourism is often cited as a key part of Warren County’s future.

No one saw what would happen in that space in 2020.

What about this year?

“We are always excited about the forthcoming tourism season because of our interaction with so many visitors who either are enjoying Warren County for the first time or a many repeated time,” Dave Sherman, executive director of the Warren County Visitors Bureau said.

Sherman detailed that outdoor recreation entities in the county saw a “robust seasons with many who had been here before or who discovered Warren County for the first time.

“Those that were willing and able to adapt to the challenges had good to great years. The businesses that thrived also stressed that the pent up demand to just get out of the house and do something was instrumental in getting customers outdoors.”

They expect to see that progress continue.

“Warren County provided opportunities that other counties maybe a few hours a way did not. The business owners we’ve talked to expect to see many of these customers return in 2021.

“We all know Warren County has an abundance of nature and affordable outdoor recreation. What a perfect combination Warren County has to offer!”

Just how the WCVB will promote the county is unclear.

Sherman said they intend to wait until into January to see where the situation is.

“We had to pull the plug on the commercial opportunities for now as travel restrictions and illnesses increased,” he said. “The message will resonate louder and be marketed in good faith if and when travelers won’t have to prove their health isn’t a concern or face quarantine restrictions.

“Our mindset has been and always will be ‘How can we encourage visitors to have fun and enjoy all we have to offer here in Warren County?’ but to do so safely,” Sherman added.

Even as vaccines become more widespread, it seems reasonable to think that many will still be fearful of traveling in 2021 given the experiences of this year.

“We aren’t in the mandate business, nor are we in (the) law enforcement business,” Sherman said. “We do however respect common sense as well as CDC guidelines and encourage visitors every day to follow all health and safety guidelines for their benefit as well as the benefit to others. Get out on a trail. Get out in the woods. Take in our fresh air whenever and wherever available in our county and the surrounding region. Exercise your body, exercise your mind, and exercise your soul…safely, here in Warren County, Pennsylvania.”

One of the most significant mitigating factors will be the status of the events that bring people here in a typical year.

John Papalia, director of chamber operations and tourism for the Warren County Chamber of Business and Industry, said he realized by the end of April that the event schedule for 2020 was going to look different.

The WCCBI directly organizes Liberty Rocks, the Industrial Softball Tournament, the Jakes Rocks Trail Festival and the Annual Christmas Parade and Walk.

That’s in addition to supporting other events throughout the county.

“We (are) currently planning for a 2021 event season,” he said. “Currently, all planning is being done cautiously and we are working towards having many options to adapt the events if necessary.”

That includes setting dates, obtaining permits and laying groundwork to be able to move ahead.

“If 2020 has taught us anything about event planning,” he said, “it would be that you better be ready to adapt. Moving into 2021, we can plan for some of those scenarios.”

While Papalia was clear that the decision to cancel events in 2020 was made with health of the community at heart, those decisions weren’t without consequences.

“The most difficult part about canceling our events, and I’m sure this would be true with many of the other events being held across the county, is the impact it had on our vendors and organizations that use the events to raise dollars or awareness for their respected business or organization.”

Looking ahead, he’s confident that “when we come out of this pandemic, community events in Warren County and across the country will bounce back.

“I feel the community will come out in great support of the events being put on throughout the year once we move past this.”

While concern about the status of an event that has to cancel is reasonable, Papalia suggested that’s less the case now because “everyone was sort of in the same boat.

“In a normal year, if someone called off an event the vendors, participants or whoever would find something else to do that day, weekend or week or another event would take the spot in the calendar. When that happens, it’s very difficult to bring the event back after a year off and trying to reestablish and retain people’s support,” he explained. “This past year wasn’t really the case as most all community events were called off or scaled back so moving forward I think community events will be able to regain traction and get the community’s support.”

The WCCBI adapted several of its events — the Industrial Softball Tournament had fewer teams, the Christmas Parade was canceled but a limited Christmas Walk was held and they placed special emphasis hitting the trails during the trail fest weekend.

And Papalia feels they are in a “good position” moving into 2021 if those adaptations have to take place again.

“Throughout the course of they ear and where things are with the pandemic, it could be a mixed bag of scaled down events and full-on events.”

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