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Television series explores the Laurel Highlands

Lindsay Dill | Tribune-Review
Fringe Benefits' director of photography Matt O'Neill films as host and producer Katie DeTar buys berries from Sand Hill Berries' market manager Merle Stutzman recently at the Ligonier Country Market. DeTar and O'Neill are producing the travel series to help travelers make it off of the beaten path around popular cities. Photo taken Saturday, June 15, 2013

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By Cami Dibattista
Thursday, June 20, 2013, 10:12 a.m.

The producer and filming crew of ‘Fringe Benefits,' a television series that is scheduled to air on Public Broadcasting Stations across the country in 2014, recently visited the Laurel Highlands to film and explore the sights, sounds and tastes of the region.

The unique new series embraces traveling the outskirts of popular American cities to find hidden treasures in the towns throughout. Independently produced and hosted by Katie DeTar, each 30-minute episode will feature a different city and then seek off-the-beaten-path experiences to share with viewers.

For the Pittsburgh episode, producers also chose to focus on the Laurel Highlands. During a recent weekend visit the culture, history and entertainment of the Laurel Highlands were explored by DeTar and her filming crew.

“Pennsylvania is a beautiful state with a lot of great places to visit,” said Julie Donovan, director of marketing and public relations for the Laurel Highlands Visitors Bureau. “I'm thrilled that they chose the Laurel Highlands to visit.”

Many Ligonier locations were highlighted for the episode — such as Fort Ligonier, the Ligonier Country Market and Idlewild and SoakZone.

Donovan met with DeTar and the filming crew last Saturday to guide them in their exploration of the region.

“Katie had already done her homework and researched the area. She had specific topics she was interested in, but I had an opportunity to make several suggestions,” Donovan said, “I recommended they see the Sunday evening band concert at the bandstand on the Diamond. It's a slice of Americana that really shouldn't be missed.”

The Ligonier Country Market was a ‘must do' activity on DeTar's list. The crew spent several hours browsing the homemade wares, fresh produce and food of local vendors.

“They loved the tie-in of how Sand Hill Berries is set up — how you can go to their farm in Mt. Pleasant and see the berries being picked and follow the process of pies being made and then sold at the market,” said Donovan. DeTar followed up with a visit to the Sand Hill Berries farm.

At Fort Ligonier, Annie Urban executive director said the crew wished to focus on the fort area, but that other unique items from the museum's collection were highlighted as well.

“We showed them George Washington's pistols and an original Redcoat uniform,” Urban said.

The Great Allegheny Passage was another area of interest to DeTar. Eric Martin, with Wilderness Voyageurs, led the crew on a bike tour of some of the trail, which connects the Laurel Highlands to Pittsburgh.

“The trail impacts the most communities of any “attraction” in the Laurel Highlands, so this is a perfect thing for them to focus on and have represent our area,” said Martin.

Frank Lloyd Wright's Fallingwater and Nemacolin Woodlands Resort were also among the facilities visited that represent the Laurel Highlands.

“It's beautiful here,” DeTar said about her visit to the area, “and I met some really nice people. I'm looking forward to telling the story of the area and the people here.”

While DeTar is a native of New York, she was born in Latrobe and lived the first two years of her life there.

“It's been neat to come back,” said DeTar, who added that her family's roots began here in the 1700s when her relatives came from France and settled in the area.

DeTar said the concept of ‘Fringe Benefits' stemmed from her lifelong love of traveling. “I've always enjoyed seeking out and exploring lesser known places and now I get to share the excitement of that with others,” she said.

DeTar said she chooses the cities she will feature on her show based on places she has been and would like to revisit, places she would like to learn more about and from recommendations.

Donovan said showing the team around was an exciting experience. “I enjoyed it so much,” she said. “It was a fabulous perspective to see our region through the eyes of the film crew. We are so fortunate to have what we have here. Ligonier is the quintessential wonderful small town.”

Cami DiBattista is a freelance writer for Trib Total Media.

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