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Take your group to enjoy Alleghenies

June 5, 2008
By Dave Hurst, For the Mirror
Five seventh-graders with inexhaustible energy led the way, bounding over the rocks and roots along this Laurel Summit trail. The rest of us, 12 other teens and adults of my church’s youth group, struggled to keep up.

Within about an hour, we’d reached our destination, emerging from a rhododendron corridor onto a jumble of large rocks offering a fantastic vista of the Linn Run valley cutting through Laurel Ridge.

A couple of these kids and adults had been to Wolf Rocks before, but most had not. We adults stood there and speculated about the many special places like this that exist within the region that we never see — even though we live here.

There’s really no good reason for that — not, at least, for the able-bodied among us. Not when information for hikers, boaters, birders, fishers, on-and off-road cyclists, ATV riders and bikers is a mouse-click away at

Developed over the past five years by the Southern Alleghenies Planning and Development Commission, which covers Bedford, Blair, Cambria, Fulton, Hunting-don and Somerset counties, the Web site is designed to be a regional outdoor-recreation guide.

When the decision is made to add an activity, an advisory committee of enthusiasts and equipment-vendors is formed.

The committee guides developers on the activity’s lingo, what motivates the practitioners and what determines the activity’s levels of difficulty. Then that knowledge is used to assemble a list of activity destinations throughout the region, organized by level of difficulty.

You can access information on a specific activity — hiking Wolf Rocks Trail, for example — or you can pick a destination, such as the ‘‘Altoona Region,’’ a skill level such as ‘‘easy,’’ and the Web site will list the places to try.

Provided information includes directions, descriptions and downloadable, printable maps. For some activities, the Web site also offers contact information for emergency services, equipment shops, attractions, lodging and dining.

Just as the Web site has evolved over the years, so has the Commission’s marketing efforts. Its tourism entity now is known as The Alleghenies Tourism Confederation and includes representatives of the Central Pennsylvania Convention and Visitors Bureau and the Laurel Highlands Visitors Bureau, as well as the original six counties’ CVBs.

‘‘The Alleghenies’’ are being marketed in the Baltimore, Md., and Wash-ington, D.C., areas. Original-ly, much of that advertising was in print. More recently, the Confederation has been using TV advertising, mass-transit posters and gas station pump-placards — all of it promoting the Web site.

Sean Waddle, The Alleghe-nies’ regional tourism program manager, told me that has received 2.7 million hits and 240,000 visitors since 2006. On average, the Web site receives 7,000 to 8,000 visits a month.

When my church youth group wants to go on a summer-Sunday outing, all we have to do pick an activity and a place then visit for all of the information we’ll need.

The same could be true for your group, whether it includes inexhaustible seventh-graders, sedate seniors, or is just a group of one.

Dave Hurst loves to hear from readers. You can write in care of the Altoona Mirror or through www.hurstmedia

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