Centre County nonprofits move forward with tourism grants

With a gift in hand, the Nittany Mountain Biking Association stands ready to open up new possibilities for the cycling community.

Thanks to a $1,500 grant given Wednesday, the association can move forward with plans to build more beginner-friendly trails in the Rothrock State Forest. The funds will allow association volunteers, who consider themselves stewards of the forest, to rent a mini-excavator and other equipment for the trail project.

“We’re very excited,” said Kirsty Lloyd, the association’s grant coordinator.

Twenty-five other local nonprofit organizations also received financial assistance from the annual tourism grant project organized by the Centre County Board of Commissioners and the Central Pennsylvania Convention & Visitors Bureau.

In all, $226,000 in grants for marketing and/or capital improvements were announced Wednesday at the Centre County/Penn State Visitor Center.

The county’s hotel room sales tax generates the funds. According to the bureau, 2 million people visit Centre County annually, contributing $600 million to the local economy.

Since the tourism grant project started in 2002, it has distributed about $2.5 million to county arts, cultural and historical organizations. A review committee allocates the grants to applicants for projects and advertising intended to attract more visitors to the county.

“A lot of these folks wouldn’t be able to do what they do without a shot in the arm,” Commissioner Steve Dershem said.

Grant recipients Wednesday ranged from giants such as the Central Pennsylvania Festival of the Arts and the Centre County Grange Encampment and Fair to smaller groups such as Bellefonte Youth Football and Cheer League, the Philipsburg Revitalization Corp. and the Mountaintop Swimming Pool Association.

The arts were well-represented by the Art Alliance, the State Theatre, the Nittany Valley Symphony, the JazzPA festival, Penn State Centre Stage, the State College Community Theatre and other organizations.

“This is probably one our best days at the bureau, and probably for the commissioners as well, because we have the privilege of giving grants to deserving organizations in Centre County,” said Betsey Howell, executive director of the visitors’ bureau.

Commissioner Chris Exarchos, speaking to organization representatives, said days like Wednesday make his job “exhilarating” and “awesome.”

“Centre County is more than a place on a map. It’s a community,” he said. “Everything that you do affects the quality of life in Centre County.

In return, several representatives took the opportunity to express their gratitude.

“Speaking for all arts organizations, this is wonderful, rich, vibrant art community, and I just don’t think we would be here so strong without the visitors’ bureau and the commissioners,” said Roberta Strebel, executive director of the Nittany Valley Symphony.

The Mountaintop Swimming Pool Association’s grant will help its revived pool open for a second summer.

After the aging Snow Shoe fixture, running out of money and down to a handful of volunteers, had to close last year, other residents jumped in and raised $130,000 to renovate and reopen the pool.

But the pool’s concrete shell needs repairs before local children can start splashing in it again by mid-June. Wednesday’s $10,000 grant is a much-needed boost, said Tom Taylor, association president.

“There are still a lot of things we need to do,” he said.

At the Centre County Historical Society, a $5,000 grant will go mainly toward redoing the society’s website. Executive Director Mary Sorensen said the new site will feature an interactive, printable heritage map and highlight local nonprofit groups more.

“That allows us to expand not only our reach, but also the reach of other organizations we collaborate with,” she said.

The Nittany Mountain Biking Association also hopes to build a new website, in addition to more trails. Started in 2001, the group wants to better publicize activities such as its weekly Friday evening group ride starting from the Galbraith Gap parking lot in Rothrock State Forest.

Wednesday’s tourism grant, the association’s first, should help.

“This gives us the opportunity to do what we love to do,” said John Dennis, association vice president.

Added Kirsty Lloyd: “And share that with other people.”