State College, PA - Centre County - Central Pennsylvania - Home of Penn State University

When Football's Away, We Find Plenty of Ways to Play

by on October 01, 2019 5:00 AM


So, what did you do during Penn State football’s bye week and first road weekend of the year?

The obvious answers are things like yard work, cleaning out the garage, washing windows, and the rest of the “Honey-do” items and personal projects you have been putting off since the start of football season. (Assuming of course that you are a football fan) For students, let’s hope you were using your time wisely in the library. Because that’s what my friends and I did when we were going to Penn State. Right?

Three home football games (and tailgates) in a row was a fun way to start the Penn State school year for those of us with season tickets, but it was also a lot of work and time consuming! For the 20,000 plus students who attend the games it’s a time-honored tradition to support the team (and learn how to tailgate), but it’s also a significant chunk of time away from studying.

Let’s assume you got your chores or homework done and you are looking for entertainment or adventure in the area when the football team isn’t playing. It got me to thinking about what people in Centre County do on fall weekends when there isn’t a home football game, or if they just aren’t football fans. As it turns out, there is plenty to do if you check out what Centre County and the surrounding areas have to offer.  

You can start by going to the Central Pennsylvania Convention & Visitors Bureau website. The nonprofit organization is full of all kinds of great information on events, arts and culture, restaurants, after-dark activities, places to stay, and things to do in Centre County. There is an on-line guide, or you can have a printed version sent to you. ( also has a weekend guide every Friday and daily calendar of events you can check out.) 

Recently I had lunch with CPCVB President and CEO Fritz Smith, and without spilling the beans, he tells me that some exciting changes are coming to the organization in just a few weeks. So, mark your calendars for mid-October and be sure to check out the website for the new and exciting things.

Of course, we are very fortunate to have Penn State in our backyard to enjoy cultural events and shows that come to the Bryce Jordan Center and any one of a number of theaters on campus and in town. There are always fascinating lectures and speaker series available as well. If football isn’t your sport, there are 30 others to choose from just at Penn State and that doesn’t include the slate of local high school sporting events that you can view throughout the county. There are plenty of ways to volunteer your time around the area as well and there is an annual volunteer fair to match community service non-profits with people looking for opportunities. Check out for more information.

I have now lived in Centre County for almost 35 years and I am amazed at the places I have yet to visit. That includes places just outside of the county as well. I am determined to check off more activities from my personal bucket list including a hot air balloon ride which may happen soon since our kids got us a gift certificate from The Sky’s the Limit as a 30th anniversary gift.

We want to spend more time visiting Bellefonte’s Victorian downtown district and Talleyrand Park, the Palmer Museum of Art, the Penn State School of Music’s new Recital Hall, the Millbrook Playhouse, the Lincoln Caverns, The Hublersburg Inn, Elk Creek Café and the Central PA Tasting Trail. We actually want to spend a night at the Nittany Lion Inn. We also plan to do more hiking and kayaking in the area starting with a much more robust hike on all the trails on Mount Nittany and kayaking at Bald Eagle State Park.

So, what did we do during the PSU football team’s bye week and first road weekend? Glad you asked.

For the bye weekend our family gathered for a mini reunion in Danville, Pa., just an hour and a half east of here, to meet the two newest members of our extended family on my wife’s side. It was like Christmas in September as family from Miami, Allentown, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, and State College converged in Danville, where our niece and nephew are doctors for Geisinger. We got to meet our two new grandnieces: Baby Noa Tinstman, up with parents Eric and Ashley and with brother Will from Florida, and baby Vivian Oehme, first born of Chris and Shannon (both Penn State grads) of Newtown Square.  

As for the Maryland away game weekend, the family was represented at the football game in College Park as our daughter met up with a group of State High friends to attend the game. Not sure too many of us saw a 59-0 shellacking of the Terps coming, but Brianna and her friends had a blast.

As for my wife and I, we were joined by our son Ryan and family friend Zach Martin for a trip to the woods. It started with a Friday afternoon trip to see the elk herds in Benezette, Pa., just an hour and a half north of State College. If you have never been to Benezette to see the elk, you are missing a spectacular opportunity. The Elk Country Visitors Center is a beautiful facility with interactive exhibits, a “4-D” immersive theatre, a discovery room with hands on activities, and plenty of trails, tours, and even wagon rides. 

Zach Martin, Heidi Battista and Ryan Battista joined columnist Joe Battista on a trip to Benezette, Pa., the Elk Capital of Pennsylvania.

We started out with dinner at the historic Benezette Hotel which was packed. What did the boys order? Well, elk burgers, of course. We started our search for the elk with a car tour and quickly came within a few feet of two  just off the main road. They are massive and impressive animals. We parked the car and went out onto the trails where we witnessed two bulls “bugling” and fighting to impress the females in the herd. As nighttime fell upon us, we continued our outdoor adventure by driving to the sleepy little town of Tidioute, Pa., home of Camp Back-Achers.

We were able to listen to the PSU-UM game thanks to satellite radio and we arrived at Back-Achers in time to watch the second half of the dominating win in the Big Ten Conference opener. Our friend’s and current owners of the camp, Gerald and Kelly Greenland, added satellite TV a couple of years ago, so the good news is we got to watch the Nittany Lions.

Back-Achers is a magical place and has a lengthy history in the family of my wife, Heidi. We have great memories of our nieces and nephews and our own kids riding in the back of a small trailer towed behind Grandpa Smitty’s John Deere tractor and playing in the pond and the Tidioute Creek, which runs through the 60-acre property. Personally, I love hiking the trails that I was first introduced to in 1989. Not much has changed since then. It is so restful, so peaceful and a chance to get away from the hustle and bustle of everyday life.  

Last year was our dog Barkley’s first trip here but he was still a flight risk, so we kept him on his leash. On Saturday morning we “released the hound” and boy did he have a blast. He loved running through the creek stopping for an occasional drink of the cool natural water. I went on several long hikes with my dog. It was “me time” and a chance to gather my thoughts and to think about all the blessings in my life. Walking back toward the cabin I caught the smell of freshly cooked bacon and eggs compliments of my wife and our nephew Travis, who joined us from Pittsburgh.

Barkley the dog got to enjoy some leash-free camping in Warren County.

The 60th annual PA State Championship Fishing Tournament was going on in Tidioute, complete with a carnival, parade down Main Street, and fireworks Saturday night. Sunday afternoon they crowned the State Championship Angler. Big doings for this tiny town.

Our son Ryan and good friend Zach re-created a photo from a few years ago of them catching rather large crayfish out of the Tidioute creek. We played Kan Jams and Five Crowns card game and roasted marshmallows over the fire pit. It was such a relaxing day.

Zach Martin and Ryan Battista re-create a photo from their younger days during a camping trip in Tidioute.

On Sunday morning we took a relaxing 8-mile canoe trip down the Allegheny River with Allegheny Wilderness Outfitters. It was 72 degrees and sunny with a mild breeze. In essence, the picture-perfect fall day. Now that’s the way to spend a weekend without football.

Back to reality and another home football game this weekend — which in this case is preparation for Penn State’s Homecoming against Purdue and the first men’s hockey game of the year as we host my parents. There are still a few more non-football weekends this fall, and I hope you will consider exploring some of the many activities available in Centre County and the surrounding areas. There really is plenty to do!


Joe Battista has been an integral part of the Penn State and State College communities since 1978. He is best known for his effort to bring varsity ice hockey to Happy Valley and in the building of Pegula Ice Arena. “JoeBa” is the owner of PRAGMATIC Passion, LLC consulting, a professional speaker, success coach, and the vice president of the National Athletic and Professional Success Academy (NAPSA). He is the author of a new book, “The Power of Pragmatic Passion.” Joe lives in State College with his wife Heidi (PSU ’81 & ’83), daughter Brianna (PSU ’15), and son’s Jon (PSU ’16), and Ryan (State High Class of 2019).
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