Recreational opportunities and a vibrant arts and cultural scene enhance the quality of life for residents in the I-99 region and help attract tourists and relocating businesses in the process.
Longtime central Pennsylvania resident Mike Harpster jokes that, growing up, “we didn’t have winter, spring, summer and fall. We had fishing season, turkey season, deer season and small game season.
“I spent my life in and around the outdoors,” he says.
Like many residents of the I-99 Corridor region, outdoor recreation remains an important part of life for Harpster, who is now director of membership and business development for HomeWaters fly fishing club in Spruce Creek.
“We grew up appreciating the outdoors and the natural resources we have around us. In today’s digital world, it’s hard to tell which things are real and which aren’t, and we’ve found there’s a yearning out there to connect to nature,” Harpster says.
I-99 Region: A Natural Attraction
Harpster says that connection is made easier by the region’s spring-fed limestone rivers, lakes and streams, which provide HomeWaters’ world-class fishing opportunities.
“Because of lack of urban sprawl and relatively low population, we have wonderful natural resources when it comes to flora and fauna of the woodlands, and this region offers lots of public access to nature,” Harpster says.
A world-class research university brings with it highly-rated sports, arts and entertainment. Penn State is home to the Palmer Museum of Art, which boasts 11 galleries, an outdoor sculpture garden and 150-seat auditorium, and the Bryce Jordan Center, a 16,000-seat arena that hosts a variety of entertainment events in addition to Nittany Lions and Big Ten basketball.
The region is also home to the Altoona Curve and State College Sparks minor league baseball teams.
In neighboring Bedford County, the Rails to Trails organization has converted 8 miles of a 10.6-mile stretch of rail bed into a hiking and biking trail. The trail passes through two public parks, connecting several of the county’s communities and providing residents access to other recreational activities such as camping, fishing, kayaking and canoeing on the river.
“Within our region, we have Raystown Lake, which is a 22-mile, man-made lake that has 102 miles of shoreline, two marinas, two resorts and numerous campgrounds. We also have three state parks nearby. And we’re also fortunate to have in proximity the Raystown branch of the Juniata River, which is popular for canoeing, kayaking and fishing,” says David Thomas, Broad Top Township secretary. “Then we have supporting recreational opportunities such as golf courses, amusement parks, and even cross-country skiing and downhill skiing at Blue Mountain Ski Resort and Tussey Mountain Ski Area. There are a lot of opportunities for people to go out and enjoy recreational activities.”
Thomas says since the organization started developing the trail, officials have noticed not only more family activity along the trail but also more use by tourists and business travelers from other parts of the state – a trend also welcomed by HomeWaters.
“In our location, we’re less than four hours from New York City, Baltimore, Washington D.C., Pittsburgh, Harrisburg and Cleveland,” Harpster says. “You look at the population in those areas, and you think how easy it is for them to get here. At HomeWaters, we have 40 to 50 employees that have jobs because of the area’s natural resources – because of the recreation we provide to people coming into the area.”
The Art of the Matter
The region’s arts scene is another draw for residents and visitors. The Mishler Theatre in Altoona – a cultural cornerstone in the community for more than 100 years – attracts patrons with a year-round schedule of theatrical and musical performances, and provides a boost to the region’s tourism industry.
“In terms of other economic development, you’re looking at an increase in hotel occupancy. You’re looking at an increase in restaurant sales and shopping experiences. So people are coming in perhaps for a performance at the theater, but they’re also eating at local restaurants and going shopping and taking advantage of the many fantastic hotels in the area,” says Katherine Shaffer, executive director of the Blair County Arts Foundation.
Shaffer says the region’s exceptional arts offerings, which include a professional ballet company, family and community theater presence, museums, art galleries and a symphony orchestra, also help attract relocating businesses.
“When economic development organizations bring folks in who are considering relocating, one of the first things they want them to see is the [Mishler] theater, and they want them to see the Southern Alleghenies Museum of Art, and they want them to know that those opportunities are here for their families. They want them to know that they don’t have to go to a major metropolitan area for these cultural experiences. That’s a really strong selling point,” Shaffer says.