Tuesday, June 28, 2022

Welcome Back, Summer! Local events are back in high gear

For two summers, the pandemic forced the cancellation of events in and around Happy Valley. While some events returned in 2021, others waited until this year. With most pandemic restrictions lifted, the area has a full slate of summer events for the first time since 2019.

Dave Gerdes, vice president of sales and marketing for the Happy Valley Adventure Bureau, says that a jam-packed summer schedule will be big for the Centre Region.

“It’s huge—unbelievable as a matter of fact,” Gerdes says. “We’re really excited about the summer based upon what we’ve seen these last couple of months. I would argue that March and April have been as busy as we’ve seen, just from the early returns. Looking forward to the summer … our events are back. I’m not aware of any that haven’t returned.”

According to Gerdes, summer of 2022 in Centre County has the potential to be unlike any other. Whether it’s special events (like the arts festivals), weekly events (like Tussey Mountain’s WingFest), or summer-long events (like State College Spikes games), the calendar is filled from Memorial Day through Labor Day—and beyond.

The economic impact, Gerdes says, will be significant.

“Looking forward to this summer, all of the events are back. Arts Festival is back, People’s Choice is back, Heritage Days out in Philipsburg is back. All of the other festivals that we’re accustomed to in the summer are back. In talking with Penn State, it appears that their sports camps are at as high of a demand as they’ve ever seen,” Gerdes says.

Philipsburg Heritage Days will be July 12-17. (Photo courtesy of Philipsburg Heritage Days)

With the Centre County calendar back to full strength, so to speak, he anticipates hotels filling up fast.

“We’re expecting a really busy summer, to the point that any messaging that the [Happy Valley Adventure] Bureau does in stimulating visitation is focused on mid-week visits. We think that demand is really significant through all these other events, that we really don’t have to promote weekend visitation like we have in the past. We’ll concentrate on driving stays during the week.”

According to Lee Anne Jeffries, executive director of the Downtown State College Improvement District, the summer events really help pump up the economy in the Centre Region.

“After the students leave for the summer, the downtown relies on visitation associated with festivals, camps, tournaments, and support from local residents to get through those 13 weeks,” she says. “It’s important for the downtown economy that the local events are supported and successful. We are always open to partner with event organizers, offering our time and resources to ensure their success.”

Jeffries knows that traditional events such as the Central Pennsylvania Festival of the Arts and the Central PA 4th Fest are extremely popular, but she says that area residents can expect to see newer events as well in 2022.

“We are excited to support diverse and inclusive downtown events such as Pride celebrations in June and a multi-faceted Juneteenth event on June 18,” Jeffries says.

With everything back in force after two quiet COVID summers, Jeffries and her staff are excited—to say the least.

“The downtown business community is alive again, and we could not be more excited to see events and visitation on the rise,” she says.

Kicking off with kids

One of the early summer events returning in 2022 is the Bellefonte Children’s Fair. Since 1949, families of Bellefonte have celebrated the conclusion of the school year with the annual Children’s Fair. The event—which was not held in 2020 or 2021—is always the first Saturday in June. This year’s event will be held from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturday, June 4, at the intersection of Curtin and Armor streets in Bellefonte. The one-day event features food, games, activities, and entertainment for the entire family. Money raised from the event goes toward the community’s parks.

The Pride in State College parade will hit the streets on Saturday, June 11, hosted by the Centre LGBTQA Support Network and the Borough of State College. The parade was held for the first time in 2021 and will be back for its second year, with additional events June 3–12.

One of the biggest events to return in 2022 is the Central Pennsylvania Festival of the Arts, which did not take place in 2020 or 2021. 

Rick Bryant, executive director of the Arts Festival, talked about the event’s much-anticipated return.

“It’s exciting, a little scary. You wonder, ‘What did we forget?’ I hope not much,” Bryant says with a laugh. “The response in the community has been great. I would say that people that I run into are just super excited about it.”

The Central Pennsylvania Festival of the Arts is, arguably, one of the biggest events of the summer in Happy Valley. The event, which runs from July 14 through July 17, with Children & Youth Day on July 13, typically brings thousands of visitors into town.

“It’s one of the ways we set the clock here in the summer in Centre County. You can set your watch by us, and we haven’t been around in a while. I think people are looking forward to us coming back,” Bryant says.

Once the planning process began for 2022, Bryant says, it was game (back) on.

“It’s a little bit like riding a bike. We are very fortunate that our paid staff has been here quite a while. We’ve got a lot of life experience,” he says.

With 17 years as executive director, Bryant knows that the economic impact of Arts Festival is huge.

“People don’t come to State College for free. People spend all kinds of money here. The Arts Festival was founded in 1967 to be an engine of economic development. Students went away, and the town fathers and mothers decided that we needed a little bit of tourism to round out our economy, hence the Arts Festival,” Bryant says.

The Arts Festival did some virtual events during the hiatus, but Bryant says he’s looking forward to getting back to live, in-person events.

New this year, the Arts Festival is partnering with the Central PA Tasting Trail to offer a designated craft beverage area where visitors can try locally made beer, wine, and cider. The Tasting Trail area will be open and serving alcohol from noon until last call at 6:30 p.m. July 14–16 in an enclosed area at the Martin Luther King Jr. Plaza on South Fraser Street.

The Tasting Trail, a group of local craft beverage purveyors, is comprised of 13 Centre County breweries, cideries, distilleries, and wineries. Up to six members will be on site each day offering samples and purchases by the bottle or glass.

“We are putting our toes in the water with some more adult-oriented events,” Bryant says. “I think it will make a lot of people happy.”

‘More excited every day’

Also back that same week in July after a two-year hiatus is the People’s Choice Festival of Pennsylvania Arts and Crafts.

 “We were out of business for the past two years,” says Director John Madison. “But things are moving along well. We’ve got 160 artisans, nine wineries coming back, and probably about 18 specialty food vendors. I’m getting more excited every day.”

The popular “alternative” arts festival is moving from its familiar spot on the Pennsylvania Military Museum grounds to the Grange Fairgrounds in Centre Hall. But just because the festival is moving doesn’t mean it is changing. Quite the contrary, Madison says.

“It’s basically going to be the same thing that it was at the museum. It’s going to be laid out about the same. It’s going to be in a big ‘U’ out there. Food court on both ends, and we will still have two tents of entertainment all day long. We’re coming back strong,” he says.

As the People’s Choice Festival grew in popularity over the years, it began to outgrow its space in Boalsburg. A venue change, Madison says, is just what the doctor ordered—and what was needed after the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission, which runs the museum, declined to extend the contract.

“We weren’t planning on moving from where we were, but the government had other ideas. I can understand; it’s their decision to make. I really think it’s going to be the best thing for us in the long run. I am really excited about it,” Madison says.

While the State College Spikes were back with a full schedule in 2021 after a canceled 2020 season, the 2022 schedule is bigger than ever. The season begins on Friday, June 3, and ends three months later on Sunday, September 4. The Spikes will offer more promotions than ever, including several fireworks nights and three bobblehead nights.

“This is the most regular season home games we’ve ever had in a season, and that’s going all the way back to the beginning,” says Joe Putnam, director of communications. “We have 40 home games and we’re looking forward to it. We have a lot of great promotions that people have enjoyed for a long time.”

While attendance wasn’t limited in 2021, the pandemic likely kept some fans away. Putnam is excited to see things get back to normal.

“Last year was kind of a unique season in terms of navigating those circumstances. We all came together … not only us here at the Spikes, but really all of Happy Valley,” Putnam says.

The Spikes had their largest crowd ever last year on the Fourth of July. While there is no game on the Fourth this summer, the Spikes host West Virginia on Sunday, July 3. There will be fireworks that night as an opening act for the Central PA 4th Fest, which will have crowds once again. In 2020, fireworks were shot off from several different locations to keep people from gathering, and in 2021, they returned to their familiar location, although crowds—besides those in attendance at the Spikes’ Medlar Field—were not permitted.

On Father’s Day weekend, the Historic Bellefonte Cruise returns to the streets of Bellefonte. It was canceled in 2020, returned in 2021, and will be back again with all the bells, horns, and whistles.

Philipsburg Heritage Days, which was not held in 2020 and 2021, is back as well. It will be held in downtown Philipsburg from Tuesday, July 12, through Sunday, July 17.

In August, several big events dot the calendar. The Bellefonte Arts and Crafts Fair is back for the first time in two years. This year’s event will be held on Allegheny and High streets on Friday, August 5, and Saturday, August 6.

“We are excited to be back, and although we may face some challenges this year, we are moving ahead to provide a fun two-day event for all to enjoy,” say Steve and Denise Snook, the fair’s co-directors. “We have many of our longtime artists returning, and we are happy to announce that over half of our artists are new to our event this year.”

The fair will also feature children’s arts and crafts activities as well as some great musical entertainment.

 “This event is a huge undertaking and could not be possible without all of the volunteers and the financial sponsors,” the Snooks say.

Other big events in August include Ag Progress Days (August 9-11) and the Centre County Grange Fair & Encampment (August 19-27). And before you know it, Penn State football will be back in September, with the first home game September 10. T&G

Chris Morelli is a resident of Pleasant Gap and the news editor of The Express in Lock Haven.