Say “Pennsylvania Dutch” and you might have people thinking of men with straw hats and big beards, ladies in simple dresses and plain bonnets. But Pennsylvania Dutch Country is more than barns and buggies.
Lancaster County has built its tourist reputation on the Amish and Mennonite communities. According to the Pennsylvania Dutch Convention and Visitors Bureau, “Approximately 10 million visitors come to Lancaster each year, generating a direct economic impact in the county of $1.8 billion. Additionally, travel and tourism generates about $338 million in tax revenues.”
The county’s Anabaptist population (a word that encompasses several “plain people”) comes in at about 59,000, more than 10 percent of all residents.
More than half of them are Amish — the more strict sect associated with the classic images of the culture. The rolling countryside is a draw in itself, but tourists are most intrigued by a people who have chosen to live such a different life in the midst of a modern world.
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A world away ...
Visitors can experience little pieces of Amish life with a variety of tours and adventures.
• Plain and Fancy Farm in Bird-in-Hand,www.amishexperience.com
, an officially designated “Heritage Site,” offers tours of a homestead, a school and farmlands, as well as a theatre experience.
• Old Order Amish Tours in Ronks, 717-299-6535, specializes in a less commercial, more authentic experience with stops they claim are exclusive.
• The Lancaster Mennonite Historical Society, Lancaster, www.lmhs.org, can help with everything from field trips to genealogy, letting people with Pennsylvania Dutch backgrounds delve into their personal history.
• Amish Barn Buggy Rides in Bird-in-Hand, 717-768-8886, lets visitors actually hit the road, Pennsylvania Dutch-style.
Theme park excitement
Simple isn’t all Lancaster has to offer, though. Like Dutch Wonderland, it can be a really wild ride.
Plunked right in the heart of Lancaster County, where the Lincoln Highway cuts across the bottom of the state, you can find a theme park that is less about the simple life than it is about a world of imagination.
Since 1963, Dutch Wonderland has entertained families with its own brand of fun, including 30 rides, live entertainment and a water zone.