Centre tourism insights: Event volunteers are valuable tourism industry ambassadors

While spending time at the Central Pennsylvania Convention & Visitors Bureau/ Downtown Improvement District tent at this year’s Central Pennsylvania Festival of the Arts, I couldn’t help but notice the cheerful litter (“green”) crew, identified by their bright red shirts. Trash pickup can be a somewhat unpleasant volunteer assignment. However, as the tens of thousands of visitors and locals that attend the festival each year would attest, providing a clean venue is essential to the festival’s image ... and greatly appreciated. So too are the duties of the entire team of 700 volunteers who help organizers present one of the county’s largest tourism draws every July. Carrying out these volunteer responsibilities with a smile exemplifies the Happy Valley spirit.

The importance of volunteers in helping to plan, organize, promote and support our many special events and festivals can’t be understated.

Next to funding – the CPCVB’s annual Tourism Grant Program provided $725,000 to 46 organizations this year for marketing/promotion efforts – help is one of organizers’ greatest needs.

Take the county’s largest and most well-known all-volunteer event – Central PA 4th Fest. Each year, a team of about 500 volunteers work year-round to make the Fourth of July celebration a success. This year, the Washington Post took notice, highlighting 4th Fest as one of the nation’s most unique fireworks displays.

Executive Director Frank Savino says 4th Fest’s “incredible,” dedicated volunteers make the community stand tall. We have always known it, and thanks to social and traditional media coverage, others outside our county know it as well.

Whether they realize it or not, volunteers are not only event champions, they serve as valuable tourism promotion ambassadors. They set the stage for positive, memorable experiences that are worth a return visit.

It’s not just major events that need help. For every festival/event of every size, there is a need for “boots on the ground.”

The recent Centre County Farm Tour, presented in July by the Centre County Farmland Trust, relied on a team of 35 volunteers at 10 participating farms to greet attendees and share information about the Farmland Trust’s mission of protecting farmland and open space in the county.

The Aarsonsburg Civic Club’s 20 to 25 volunteers will make apple cider, ham and bean soup, sticky buns, bread, scrapple, and ham pot pie for the October Dutch Fall Festival – and that’s just to get ready for the annual Penns Valley event. Now in its 44th year, the festival has been part community reunion, part fundraiser and part tourist attraction since 1976.

The Civic Club is only one of several nonprofits to participate in and rely on the Dutch Fall Festival. Those organizations also rely on volunteers to make the festival come to life.

The Tussey Mountainback 50-mile Relay and Ultramarathon will use volunteers to staff the relief stations and provide moral support for the nearly 100 relay teams and 100 runners set to participate in the fall endurance run through Rothrock State Forest.

These are just a few of the many examples. With fall festival season in Happy Valley just getting started, there are ample opportunities to volunteer. Most events/attractions have information available online or via social media channels about volunteer opportunities.

The CPCVB applauds the contributions of all who give – or are considering giving – their time and talents to events that provide a sense of tradition and community to local residents, and that offer visitors an enjoyable way to experience Centre County’s wonderful, authentic attributes and assets ... with a smile of course!

Fritz Smith is President and CEO of the Central Pennsylvania Convention & Visitors Bureau.