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Champions of the PA Wilds award winners announced- Bradford Era

Posted by the Bradford Era on October 9, 2021

KANE — The PA Wilds Center for Entrepreneurship announced the recipients of the 2021 Champions of the PA Wilds Awards. These individuals, businesses, events and places from across the region will be honored in a virtual celebration this fall.

The awards are typically distributed during the PA Wilds Center’s Annual Dinner. However, this year’s in-person dinner, originally planned for Nov. 4, has been cancelled due to ongoing COVID-19 risks and concerns.

Instead, this year’s Champion Awards will be distributed to winners in small groups and celebrated online to reduce the risks associated with COVID-19. Videos and photos will be shared on social media, including Facebook and Instagram, @thepawilds.

“Each year, our organization recognizes outstanding individuals, organizations, programs, communities and places that exemplify the great work being done across the region to develop nature tourism and the outdoor recreation economy in a way that creates jobs, diversifies local economies, inspires stewardship and improves quality of life. This year will be no different in that regard,” said Ta Enos, Founder and CEO of the PA Wilds Center. “We are so incredibly excited to honor the recipients of these nine awards. The artists, entrepreneurs and volunteers involved in these pursuits have shown pride in our region and commitment to our natural assets and communities. They have also been both resilient and resourceful in the face of the pandemic, traits that are uplifted in our very own brand principles. We hope that the new format for celebrating their achievements will allow even more people to join in the process this year!”

The 2021 Best Brand Ambassador Award goes to Dave Conklin of The Wilds Sonshine Factory in Kane.

With the creation of The Wilds Sonshine Factory, not only has Dave Conklin incorporated the PA Wilds brand directly into his business; he has trademarked it so that Sonshine will be exclusively grown and produced within the PA Wilds region. The Wilds Sonshine Factory tied the patent for their innovative distilled product to the PA Wilds brand and through a licensing contract will be giving a portion of every bottle sold to support the PA Wilds Center’s nonprofit mission in the landscape. A true PA Wilds ambassador, Conklin has spoken about the importance of the PA Wilds on the radio and TV, to elected officials, to other business people and on stage at Public Officials Day. The distillery building will also serve as an agricultural education center, combining efforts and partnerships from Allegheny Hardwoods Utilization Group (AHUG), Penn State Outreach and Penn State Extension; and the McKean, Elk and Warren County Conservation Districts.

Trails at Jakes Rocks in Warren County was recognized with the 2021 Great Places Award.

The Trails at Jakes Rocks (TAJR), located on the Allegheny National Forest (ANF), currently provides in excess of 30 miles of trail that is optimized for mountain bikes, hiker friendly, and professionally designed and constructed. TAJR has grown to be the single largest continually operating outdoor recreation asset within the ANF. US Forest Service (USFS) data collection indicates that the TAJR attracted in excess of 15,000 trail users in 2020 alone. The success of the project in attracting new visitors to the region has supported business growth in Warren and McKean Counties as well as facility improvement investments by the USFS. The collaboration between numerous state, federal and local organizations and entities to develop the roughly $3 Million in capital investment is unique to this region.

The Great Design Award will be presented to Mickayla Poland of St. Marys, Elk County.

Mickayla Poland at PA Made LLC is a graphic designer and painter who has embraced local wildlife in her art. She is known for her love for Pennsylvania, Elk County, and the PA Wilds because her business is all about supporting and showcasing subjects from the Commonwealth. Much of her original artwork features the wildlife of the area. She has also worked with the Elk County Conservation District on projects and works with local children to help them promote their community. For example, she recently completed a series of storm drain murals for the Elk County Conservation that will help educate people about the importance of keeping stormwater and runoff water clean.

Finally, the Inspiring Youth Award will be presented to Paul Lilja and the Black Forest Conservation Association in Potter County.

Paul Lilja and the Black Forest Conservation Association have been organizing a week-long Junior Conservation School for over 40 years. This week-long summer camp gets students involved in a wide array of outdoor skills classes and conservation lessons throughout the region. Home base for campers is outside of Coudersport at the Black Forest Conservation Club. The week consists of field trips to locations across the region to learn about conservation issues and conservation careers. One location is Western Pennsylvania Conservancy’s Bennett Branch Forest where they learn about acid mine discharge and its treatment.

“This was another challenging year for the Board of Directors tasked with reviewing nominations, as there were so many inspiring nominees,” said Enos. “The board encourages those who submitted nominations that were not selected this year to consider submitting again next year.”


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