Fostering New Connections in the Laurel Highlands

“Where can I take a short hike with a great view?”

“My kids are hot, is there a swimming hole nearby?”

“We want to visit another state park, what do you recommend for biking?”

“What’s The Fort?”

“Have you been to the Flight 93 National Memorial?”

These are just a sampling of questions that visitors ask PA Park and Forest staff working in the Laurel Highlands Conservation Landscape (LHCL). Recognizing that knowledgeable recommendations are invaluable to visitors, the PA Park and Forest Managers and members of the LHCL Tourism Committee developed a training program for staff members who frequently interact with the visiting public. This new training program gives interpreters, visitor center assistants, maintenance workers, administrative assistants, and rangers the opportunity to visit popular sites so they are more prepared to help park visitors.

The managers from Ohiopyle, Linn Run, Laurel Hill, and Keystone State Parks and Forbes State Forest recognize the value of investing in their staff by allocating two days a year, spring and fall, to participate in tours of the trails, heritage sites, swimming holes, and other key sites in and around public lands. The tours are led by the managers. With these tours, everyone wins; visitors get informed advice to plan their adventures and staff feel valued by their employers and empowered to do their jobs well.

There are other benefits too: people with the same job title but who have never met can share ideas and form mentoring relationships. New connections can also develop between public lands and surrounding tourism assets. For example, personnel at Ohiopyle State Park and Fallingwater, located just four miles apart and each an iconic asset in the Landscape, were not familiar with each other’s sites. After a day of touring, participants felt excited to know more about the park and the historic home and they had a better understanding of the shared interests each of their target audiences shared so that referrals between properties are more common.

Sample training itineraries: