Visitors’ outdoor activities generated millions of dollars in tourism revenue this summer in Northeast Pennsylvania and that’s expected to continue through the fall with the number of visitors increasing, according to local experts.
“We know the beauty of the outdoors continues to attract people judging by some of the overflow crowds we saw at our parks and trails,” said Luzerne County Convention and Visitors Bureau Executive Director Theodore B. Wampole Jr.
The prediction seems too good to be true following a three-month state-wide shutdown of non-essential businesses to curb the spread of COVID-19, which caused millions in lost tourism revenue.
Pennsylvania’s 121 state parks reported an increase in visitors this summer, according to Terrence Brady, press secretary for the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, based in Harrisburg.
In June, state parks reported 6.6 million in visitor attendance, compared to 5.6 million last year, Brady said.
“The park system visitation increased by over 1 million visitors overall,” Brady said.
Brady reported daily camping reservations totaled over $3.86 million in June. This is an increase of $1.96 million for June 2019.
“We do not see this interest (in outdoor activities) falling off,” Brady said.
Camelback Lodge in Pocono Township Monroe County, also reported a surge of interest from guests looking for outdoor fun, according to the resort’s managing director Shawn Hauver.
“We have seen a tremendous interest in our outdoor activities this summer and expect to see the same interest for fall,” Hauver said. “Travelers are looking for fresh air escapes no matter the season.”
The Poconos and surrounding areas are attractive destinations due to the variety of outdoor activities available that provide social distancing. Pocono Mountains Visitor Bureau President and Chief Executive Officer Chris Barrett said.
Tom Williams, the owner of PoconoOutdoors.com, also known as Pocono Bike Rental, in White Haven, said his business revenue is up 125%.
Although the tourism industry and ancillary businesses are reporting an increase in summer revenue, they continue to face challenges due to limited capacity restriction and costs of enhanced cleaning and sanitizing due to COVID-19, Barrett said.
“Our 2020 fall season will look different from previous years due to government guidelines during COVID-19,” Hauver said. “While we are experiencing a demand, we limit occupancy through the resort to provide a safe environment of all our guests.”
Camelback Resort has enhanced cleaning and sanitizing protocols, and implemented resort-wide touchless features to ensure guests’ and staff safety, Hauver said.
Travelers will also discover the ‘Pocono Promise,’ which is an added safety assurance, Barrett said.
‘Pocono Promise’ is a pledge that over 250 businesses vowed to follow safety guidelines that include aggressive cleaning protocols, health surveys for staff before starting their shift, and personal protective equipment when possible, Barrett said.
The ‘Pocono Promise’ signage is found in many resorts, restaurants, barbershops, doctor’s offices, and more, Barrett said.
Guests are advised to call a business to verify if activities such as train excursions and other events are operating, Barrett said.
For example, Steamtown National Historic Site in Scranton offers museum access, but train excursions are currently canceled, Curt Camoni, executive Director of Lackawanna County Convention and Visitors Bureau said.
Steamtown National Historic Site’s website, www.nps.gov, reports train rides are canceled through Sept. 30.
“Decisions on operating fall foliage and holiday trains will be made at a later date.,” according to the website.
Lehigh Gorge Scenic Railway in Jim Thorpe resumed train excursions on Aug. 14. Matthew Fisher, the general manager for the Lehigh Gorge Scenic Railway, was unavailable for comment.
The surge of people heading outside has created some challenges for the tourism industry.
Many state parks and state forests experienced overcrowding, and visitors were turned away, and overflow parking areas were closed to ensure social distancing, Brady said.
Ricketts Glen State Park in Columbia, Luzerne and Sullivan counties, Beltzville State Park in Carbon County, and the Seven Tubs Recreation Area in Pinchot State Forest, Luzerne County, are some areas that experienced overcrowding, according to Brady.
Visit www.dcnr.pa.gov, for a list of overcrowded state parks and forest areas.
“People are doing things they never did before, such as paddle boarding and biking,” Brady said.
Williams had more “urban visitors” patronize his shop this summer.
“They are unfamiliar with bike riding trail etiquette,” he said.
For example, when riding a bicycle on a trail with other hikers or cyclists, “they don’t call out ‘passing on the left,’” as they pass someone, Williams said.
An increase in litter in state parks and forests is also a problem, Brady and Williams said.
Park guests are requested to carry out all bottles, food wrappers, and other items to dispose of in trash cans.
Brady said that sensitive wildlife habitats are threatened as visitors park in non-designated areas and venturing off trails.
Guests can play a vital role in preserving northeast Pennsylvania’s natural beauty so they can come and visit again, Brady said.