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Tourism impact is critical

The potential impact of a $1 million state grant targeted for a long-abandoned section of the Pennsylvania Turnpike in Bedford and Fulton counties extends far beyond that former part of “America’s First Superhighway.”

The grant will impact in a positive way, as well, these other counties of the six-county Southern Alleghenies region — Blair, Cambria, Huntingdon and Somerset. Beyond that, the positive impact could extend to such regions as the Laurel Highlands to the west.

In reality, tourism has no boundaries, if the right promotion exists.

On the tourism front, the important ingredient is a well-developed plan, along with associated materials, that enable all tourist attractions to capitalize on the existence of each other.

That can be looked at another way: Having many stores attracts many customers.

There’s much more to do in this area to mold the many tourism resources into what many people might describe as an irresistible package. The former turnpike section can be a quality gem within that overall package.

That’s the challenge ahead.

The $1 million grant, sought in a combined effort by state Rep. Jesse Topper, R-Bedford, and state Sens. Judy Ward, R-Blair, and Wayne Langerholc Jr., R-Cambria, will further a goal announced several years ago to turn what currently is an unofficial bicyclist and walking destination dubbed the Pike2Bike trail into an official, improved bike path with a number of amenities.

As an article in the Aug. 4 Mirror reported, besides trail improvements, plans include restoration of the former Cove Valley Travel Plaza in Fulton County and a new pedestrian bridge over Route 30 in Breeze­wood. Included with trail restoration will be work tied to two abandoned two-lane turnpike tunnels east of Breezewood ­– Rays Hill and Sideling Hill — plus installation of restrooms and signage.

In 1968, the turnpike abandoned a 13-mile stretch of roadway after completion of a bypass. When the old turnpike section was closed, the foresight didn’t exist to capitalize on the tourism opportunities.

At that time, hiking and bicycle trails weren’t yet a large-scale, sought-after recreational asset.

The project to which the $1 million will be directed focuses on an 8.5-mile stretch of the 13 miles closed originally.

“When the trail is complete, this revamped bike path will attract visitors to our area, spurring on our local tourism economy,” Topper said.

Ward has predicted “substantial economic benefits to both Fulton and Bedford counties by creating jobs, generating tax revenue and increasing visitor spending.”

Added Langerholc: “This is another example of how we can invest in providing area residents and visitors with a place they can enjoy.”

Jim Edwards, chairman of the Bedford-Fulton Joint Recreational Authority, described the money as a “much-needed start to get this project going and make things happen.”

But more will be needed beyond the actual restoration and improvement work. Top tourism officials in this and neighboring parts of Pennsylvania need to meet to develop resources for introducing to everyone the tourism assets that exist — resources such as easy-to-follow maps, with distances between sites noted, to guide visitors from near and far to the various places to see and enjoy.

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