“Turn, turn, turn, there is a season”
And the season is spring! It may not feel like it right now, and we’ll still get a few cold snaps and flurries from time to time, but very soon it will be spring!
It’s been a long, cold, snowy winter, and we’re itching to see the sun and venture forth. Yep, it’s time to get outside!
Recreation is a major driver of tourism, locally and throughout the state of Pennsylvania. Traveler spending on recreation in the Keystone State increased to a record level of $6.1 billion in 2011, a significant 16 percent of total visitor spending. And for just daytrippers in Pennsylvania, the totals are even higher, with $3.24 billion spent by 27 percent of travelers. For Washington County, recreation represents 10.5 percent of total spending for a total of $168.7 million.
Any way you slice it, getting out, getting active and getting into things is big business and, maybe more importantly, big fun for locals and visitors.
The calendar shows ample opportunities for outdoor activities in Washington County within the next month, so let’s highlight just a few notables.
A remnant of a bygone age of transportation and coal mining is now one of the most enjoyed outdoor facilities in the county and, by extension, the country. Celebrating 20 years of hiking and biking fun last year, the Montour Trail is a multi-use recreational rail-trail that will ultimately extend its current 40 miles of trails to 46 miles, from Moon Township near Coraopolis to Clairton. The trail connects to the Great Allegheny Passage (GAP), a trail system that stretches over 330 miles from Pittsburgh to Washington, D.C. Locally, you can catch the trail at trail heads from Peterswood Park in McMurray, through Hendersonville, and all the way to Quicksilver Golf Club before crossing back into Allegheny County.
And don’t pass up the 2013 opening of the McDonald Trail Station in early April. Situated on the Panhandle Trail close to its junction with the Montour Trail, the McDonald Trail Station offers bikers and hikers a welcome rest stop and a trip back in time, highlighting local industry, history and heritage.
From rails and trails to streams and lakes, outdoor recreation comes to life in the spring in Washington County. The county Parks and Recreation Department maintains 5,500 acres of the great outdoors at Mingo Creek, Cross Creek and Ten Mile Parks, sponsoring programs, activities and events for all to enjoy.
From maple sugaring, hayrides, festivals and fishing, to field trips, school programs and playgrounds, our parks provide the perfect outdoor experience. Spring is especially busy as the snow melts off the new walking path at Mingo Creek County Park, just in time to stretch the legs and the spirit. You might stroll down that path to your favorite pool in Mingo Creek when trout season opens April 13, or wet your line at Cross Creek Lake near Avella, or Ten Mile Park near Marianna.
Finally, the Mingo Creek Park Observatory hosts a Public Star Party later in the month, connecting Earth-bound stargazers with the cosmos via large telescopes and a 20-foot planetarium, all right here in Washington County!
So, go ahead, get out! No, really – head out – to your local or county park, favorite stream, pathway or playground. Spring is just around the corner, here in Washington County.
J.R. Shaw is executive director of the Washington County Tourism Promotion Agency.