First Lady Frances Wolf Discusses Pennsylvania Tourism and Increase in Outdoor Activities During COVID-19

First Lady Frances Wolf hosted a virtual conversation on Facebook discussing how the tourism and outdoor industries have been impacted during COVID-19. This was the fifth conversation in a series titled, “The Bigger Picture”, an extension of One Lens: Sharing Our Common Views that hones in on the various aspects of the COVID-19 pandemic, connecting this extraordinary moment to the broader community.

The full conversation can be found on the One Lens Facebook page.

“During the past year, I, like so many Pennsylvanians, have experienced a renewed appreciation for the outdoors and the natural beauty of our state,” said First Lady Wolf. “Our parks, trails, and riverfronts have become places of refuge for so many of us to clear our minds and safely spend time with our loved ones. My hope is that we continue to utilize these spaces beyond the pandemic as a way to celebrate these pieces of our commonwealth.”

First Lady Wolf was joined by a panel of tourism and outdoors professionals, including Cindy Adams Dunn, Secretary of Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR); Carrie Lepore, Deputy Secretary of Marketing, Tourism and Film for the Department of Community and Economic Development(DCED); James Hamill, Director of Public Relations for the Pocono Mountains Visitors Bureau and One Lens Northeast Regional Ambassador; and, Matt Galluzzo, President and CEO of Riverlife and Southeast Regional Ambassador. They all shed light on how Pennsylvanians have utilized the outdoors, how the tourism industry has adapted during the pandemic, and how residents can continue to use these spaces safely.

Secretary Dunn opened the conversation by highlighting the increase in outdoor activity that DCNR continues to see throughout the state. “With their social lives upended and travel plans cancelled millions of Pennsylvanians are taking to the outdoors for much-needed opportunities to get exercise, relieve stress, and be with loved ones while remaining safe and socially distanced,” said Secretary Dunn. “We are fortunate that our commonwealth has so many beautiful natural places that are free of charge and open to all. Now more than ever they are critical to our well-being.”

Pennsylvania is home to 121 state parks, 2.2 million acres of state forest land, 83,000 miles of rivers and streams, and over 11,000 miles of trails. Aptly named Penn’s Woods, sixty percent of the commonwealth is covered in trees.

According to the PA Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, Pennsylvania state park attendance increased from 37 million visitors in 2019 to nearly 47 million in 2020 – that’s about a 27 percent increase. Additionally, in a recent poll conducted by the agency, 4 out of 5 Pennsylvanians who visited parks and trails during the pandemic believe that time spent outdoors is essential to their physical and mental health.

Deputy Secretary Lepore added: “Penn’s Woods, our greater-than-great outdoors, have always been one of our finest assets and biggest tourism draws. With the onset of the pandemic we have seen countless Pennsylvanians and visitors alike rediscover our majestic landscape while millions more have ventured down trails and into parks for the first time. The timing and mission of One Lens is ideal as capturing and sharing an image while exploring the outdoors makes for the perfect postcard, the best invitation for others to Pursue their Happiness in Pennsylvania while finding it for themselves.”

Hamill commented on how the tourism industry supported the boost in outdoor activity in the northeast. “Throughout this past year we’ve seen folks reconnect with their natural surroundings whether it be public parks or ski resorts, lakes and rivers that offered a way to distance and remain active with family,” said Hamill. “That has helped provide hope for many of us throughout these trying times plus renewed an appreciation for all we have in the Poconos and the rest of Penn’s Woods. And while the tourism industry has faced adversity, businesses have adapted to new ways of providing memorable experiences to guests and locals alike.”

Matt Galluzzo, whose nonprofit’s mission is in part “to create, activate, and celebrate Pittsburgh’s riverfronts” described the role of these outdoor spaces in the southwest. “Every aspect of our work over the past year has been colored by the COVID-19 pandemic, which has been difficult in so many ways for so many people,” said Galluzzo. “Through it all, we’ve seen a real appreciation and demand for riverfront public open spaces from the people of our region. During the toughest times of the past year, we saw record numbers of people turning to the riverfront trails, parks and watercraft areas for wellness and recreation. The use of trails and open spaces has spiked 62% during the pandemic, and four out of five U.S. adults believe that visiting open spaces has been essential for their mental health and physical well-being. It has reinforced the importance of our work–public outdoor spaces are essential. The One Lens photo exhibition is such powerful way to tell these types of stories and so much more.”

One Lens: Sharing Our Common Views is a statewide virtual photo and storytelling exhibit organized by the First Lady’s Office in partnership with PHMC, the PA Council on the Arts, the PA Tourism Office, and the Library of Accessible Media for Pennsylvanians. It celebrates the hard work and commitment of all Pennsylvanians as we continue our fight against COVID-19. The deadline to submit photos is Monday, March 8, 2021 and audio submissions via LAMP’s One Lens hotline at 215-683-3218 through Monday, March 15, 2021. The full exhibit will be released on Friday, March 19, 2021. More information about One Lens can be found on the website.

Information on future virtual conversations for The Bigger Picture and other updates can be found on the One Lens Facebook and Instagram pages.