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‘We’re Coming Back.’ With Optimism for a Tourism Rebound, Adventure Bureau Awards More Than $460,000 in Grants

COVID-19 resulted in a devastating 2020 for the Centre County tourism industry, but gathered Monday outside the Bellefonte Train Station, local officials and event organizers were looking forward with a renewed sense of optimism.

They were there as the Happy Valley Adventure Bureau and Centre County commissioners announced 2021-22 tourism grant awards totaling $461,300 for 45 projects that are designed to encourage visitation and overnight stays in the region.

In 2019, before the funding began to be hit by the COVID-19 pandemic, HVAB and the commissioners were able to award a record $725,500 in tourism grants The grants are funded by the local hotel occupancy tax, which dropped from $4.1 million in 2019 to $1.6 million in 2020 as lodging businesses experienced a nearly $50 million decrease in revenues.

Fritz Smith, HVAB president and CEO, said that meant the total number of tourism grant requests “greatly exceeded the amount that was available,” but he is pleased the program could continue to support new and returning projects.

“I think we’ve turned the corner,” he said. “I think it’s going to be a strong summer. We’re looking forward to full stadiums in the fall and I think we’re on the path. We’re coming back.”

Fritz Smith, Happy Valley Adventure Bureau president and CEO, speaks on Monday, June 21, 2021, outside the Bellefonte Train Station during an announcement of 2021-22 tourism grants. Photo by Geoff Rushton |

Centre County Board of Commissioners Chair Michael Pipe said he is encouraged by community efforts to mitigate the virus and get vaccinated, and by the plummeting number of COVID-19 cases locally.

“It’s certainly time to bring people back, to welcome them back to Centre County,” he said. “In the future we’re going to have more and more hotel tax revenue coming into this community, which will mean more events, more support for all the nonprofits that are here today and many more that are just percolating new ideas about how we can bring people here into Centre County.”

Among the grant awards were 10 first-time recipients. (A full list of all recipients is at the end of this story.)

Centre County Commissioner Michael Pipe speaks on Monday, June 21, 2021, outside the Bellefonte Train Station during an announcement of 2021-22 tourism grants. Photo by Geoff Rushton |

They included Route 45 Getaways, which received a $9,000 grant for the event planned for July 31-Aug. 8 in a collaboration among Millheim and Ferguson Township governments and business owners.

“This event is going to connect the Pisano Winery and Elk Creek Cafe in Millheim Borough to Pine Grove Hall and 814 Ciderworks in Pine Grove Mills in Ferguson Township, offering several attractions and points of interest to visit in between including self-guided tours, hiking, shopping, dining and entertainment,” Ferguson Township Manager David Pribulka said.

The first weekend will feature events at the Millheim businesses, while the second will showcase the Pine Grove Mills establishments, “and we’ll have a lot of things planned the week in between,” Pribulka said.

“With your help and attendance we can help educate, inspire and entertain people from all over as they immerse themselves in Centre County’s rich history of sustainable farming, music, locally sourced beer, food, wine and spirits and much more,” he added.

The Rothrock Grit Gravel Grinder, a mountain biking race organized by the Happy Valley Women’s Cycling Team, event was held for the first time this year and drew about 350 participants. It received a $5,000 grant for next year’s edition.

Organizer Tonya Campbell said an important aspect of the event is that half the slots are reserved for women riders.

“We like to engage more women into cycling because it builds strength within the numbers in the community,” Campbell said. “It’s pretty much unheard of to have half the field be women. So from the get-go… we decided we were going to save spots for women. Fifty percent of the registrations this year went to women and we were able to fill that which was a huge success.”

Getting those spots filled took time and effort however, reaching out to “pretty much everybody we knew that was a woman rider or women race teams from outside the area,” she said. The grant will help to promote the event and registrations, while also drawing attention to Rothrock.

Campbell said all revenue from the event goes to organizations like Friends of Rothrock, the Musser Gap Trail initiative, the Harvest Fields community trail project.

“That’s really important to us that we’re keeping the money locally and we’re kind of fueling that fire for outdoor recreation in the Centre County area,” she said. “Rothrock Forest is simply amazing and the more money that we can pull into those initiatives and those trail projects, the more people we’ll have coming to visit our area and seeing what our forest has to offer.”

Your Cigar Den owner Tony Ghaffari organized the first Havana Fest in downtown State College with a bit of support from the bureau. The Latin Caribbean-themed festival will return sometime in the first half of 2022 on South Fraser Street at the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Plaza with a $6,000 tourism grant.

Tony Ghaffari, owner of Your Cigar Den and organizer of HavanaFest, speaks on Monday, June 21, 2021 outside the Bellefonte Train Station during an announcement of Centre County tourism grant awards. HavanaFest will return to downtown State College in 2022. Photo by Geoff Rushton |

Ghaffari said the festival is in the style of Carnaval Miami.

“It has a certain vibe that’s more like a street festival than anything else,” Ghaffari said. “The goal is to bring the sites, sounds, tastes and vibe of the Latin Caribbean lifestyle through live music, live performances, food and drink to central Pennsylvania. We hope to attract people from surrounding counties and states to showcase the charm, inclusiveness and diversity that Centre County has to offer.”

Centre County Commissioner Steve Dershem said with new and returning events, the Centre County community has many reasons to be “very thankful,” and that he is ready to look forward.

“Whether you live in Aaronsburg or Philipsburg, whether you live in State College or Snow Shoe, there’s lots to do now. Let’s get out and get it done,” Dershem said. “We need to get heads in the beds, we need to get people visiting again. The vibrancy that tourism brings to our community is immeasurable.

“So many areas have so many amazing things to offer but we have them yearround, literally 365 days a year. Let’s be thankful for what we’ve got, move ahead into the future and support the folks in our local communities that make this all happen.

Centre County Commissioner Steve Dershem speaks on Monday, June 21, 2021, outside the Bellefonte Train Station during an announcement of 2021-22 tourism grants. Photo by Geoff Rushton |

The following organizations received grant funding:

  1. Pennsylvania Chamber Orchestra – $3,000 for advertising
  2. *State College Area Rowing Association – $8,000 to help support the construction of a floating low freeboard dock at West End Park in Howard, PA. This would enable the local club team to bid for events to be held at Bald Eagle State Park.
  3. Happy Valley Women’s Cycling Team (Rothrock Grit Gravel Grinder) – $5,000 for the June 2022 event.
  4. Bellefonte Art Museum – $10,000 to market exhibits, with a focus on the Underground Railroad Journey to Freedom.
  5. The State Theatre – $25,000 for marketing assistance
  6. Central PA 4th Fest — $25,000 to support the July 4 fireworks display
  7. Centre Region Parks & Recreation – $3,500 to support the popular Centre County Geo-cache tour
  8. Arboretum at Penn State — $8,000 to advertise two signature events:  the Pumpkin Festival and the Winter Celebration
  9. Grange Fair – $25,000 to augment the advertising campaign to promote the fair
  10. The Crooked House (Milesburg) – $10,000 for concrete sculpture fabrication/installation and marketing costs
  11. Nittany Mountain Bike Association – Harvest Fields Community Trails – $15,000 to support phase 2 of the project, which includes building a skills park
  12. Bryce Jordan Center – $7,500 for marketing to drive concert attendance
  13. Discovery Space – $15,000 for marketing
  14. Nittany Lion Aquatic Club – $20,000 to support the cost of renting McCoy Natatorium in order to host five USA Swim meets
  15. Central PA Festival of the Arts – $7,000 for marketing virtual festival
  16. First Night State College – $3,250 to help market the event
  17. Centre Stage – $10,000 to market the upcoming performance season, which starts in October
  18. Penn’s Woods Music Fest – $2,800 to promote the event, which will take place June 13-25, 2022
  19. Nittany Performing Arts Center – $5,000 to help toward developing this project
  20. *Central PA Tasting Trail – $10,000 for a performance staging project coordinated by Elk Creek Cafe
  21. PA Parks & Forest Federation (Friends of Rothrock) – $10,000 for continuation of trail design and development
  22. Centre County Library & Historical Museum – $10,000 for ongoing restoration work
  23. *Havana Fest – $6,000 for Cuban-themed festival taking place in May 2022
  24. Centre Film Festival – $11,000 to market the festival, which will be held Nov. 5-7, 2021
  25. Rhoneymeade – $4,000 for new signage, event tents and marketing materials
  26. *Millheim Borough – $5,000 for Millheim Walk “second Saturday” events
  27. State College Downtown Improvement District – $14,000 for resource improvements, including art murals, plants/planters, etc.
  28. Rowland Theater – $5,000 for new spotlights
  29. Bryce Jordan Center (project 2) – $10,000 to promote incentives meant to attract big name acts
  30. *Millheim Borough (Project 2, Millheim WalkFest of Art and Music) – $5,000 to assist with new event taking place July 9-11, 2021
  31. *Snow Shoe Rails to Trails – $7,000 to develop map/pamphlet of local businesses and legalized trails
  32. Centre County Farmland Trust – $5,000 to assist with development of farm route project
  33. Philipsburg Revitalization Corp. – $5,000 for the Market Appraisal Day and Wine Walk
  34. Downtown Bellefonte Inc. – $10,000 for Bellefonte Under the Lights and Fridays in the Fonte
  35. *Central PA Tasting Trail – $9,000 for a new Oktoberfest event at Grange Park
  36. *Ferguson Township – $9,000 for a new event: Route 45 Getaways
  37. *Happy Valley Improv Festival – $17,000 for marketing for this event, which will take place May 19-21, 2022
  38. Centre County Historical Society – $10,000 for marketing to drive visitors to CCHS-administered sites
  39. Centre Bike – $1,000 for Ride with GPS license renewal
  40. Historic Bellefonte Inc. – $40,000 for Historic Cruise, Arts & Craft Fair, Victorian Christmas
  41. Lucky Dog Management – $20,000 for production of Happy Valley Music Fest
  42. *Potter Township Parks & Recreation – $6,000 for Emory and Geis Field renovations
  43. Columbus Chapel & Boal Mansion Museum – $3,750 for marketing
  44. Tempest Productions – Theatre and Dance Fest – $10,000 to help promote the June 2022 festival
  45. Provisions Magazine – $10,000 for Happy Valley Restaurant Week

* First-time recipients