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Westmoreland County attractions benefit from tourism grants

Joe Napsha
| Tuesday, March 31, 2015, 1:51 p.m.

Tourism grants will help fund marketing initiatives for the Great Allegheny Passage along the Youghiogheny River, a stock car race in South Huntingdon, a Sewickley Township winery and a West Newton restaurant, as well as for keeping West Newton Station along the recreational trail open on weekends.

A $12,000 Westmoreland County tourism grant will be used to help keep the West Newton Station, a regional visitors center along the Great Allegheny Passage, open seven days a week from April through November, said Leslie Pierce, office manager for the station.

“We can actually pay them ... and also have money from the grant to cover utilities and restroom supplies” at the popular visitors center, Pierce said.

West Newton Station is a busy place for hikers and bikers using the trail. The red brick station, located just north of the trail's intersection with Route 136, is operated by the Westmoreland Yough Trail Chapter, a volunteer organization that manages that section of the trail.

“We've seen an increase in visitors. We had visitors from all 50 states and 12 foreign countries last year,” Pierce said.

West Newton Station received one of 77 tourism grants totalling $401,191 that the Laurel Highlands Visitors Bureau awarded to 71 tourism-related businesses and organizations operating in Westmoreland County. Many of the grants went to organizations for marketing purposes.The Great Allegheny Passage, a coalition of seven trail organizations received $12,000 to upgrade its website and produce and distribute a trail map and trail town brochure.

Motordrome Speedway in South Huntingdon, received $10,000 to market the NASCAR K&N Pro Series, which is scheduled to run at the one-half-mile asphalt race track on Aug. 14-15, said Todd Melfi, a co-owner of Motordrome.

The K&N Pro Series is the largest regional touring series NASCAR sponsors and will bring “a lot of visitors” to the race track, Melfi said. The 150-lap race, which attracts about 30 drivers, will be held on Aug. 15, Melfi said.

Motordrome plans to use the grant to conduct a multi-media campaign that will include ads on television, radio and digital advertising announcing the two-day event.

Among the other grant recipients were:

• The Greenhouse Winery, $2,000 for marketing to produce brochures and install directional signs to their winery near Rillton in Sewickley Township.

• The Trailside restaurant in West Newton, $1,000 for marketing to buy ads in the Trailbook and Great Allegheny Passage website.

• The Trail Town Program, operated by The Progress Fund in Greensburg, $626 for an ad in the Trailbook.

“Our mission is to attract visitors from outside the region,” Ronald Virag, president and CEO of the Laurel Highlands Visitors Bureau, said in announcing the grant recipients last month. The grants are administered by the Ligonier-based visitors bureau, the state-sanctioned organization promoting tourism and economic development in Fayette, Somerset and Westmoreland counties.

The visitors bureau received 108 applications seeking a total of more than $1 million this year. The applications were reviewed by a committee consisting of Westmoreland County Commissioners Charles Anderson and Tyler Courtney, and Virag, a building company owner and a co-owner of the Ramada Ligonier.

The money was distributed to the recipients in March, said Julie Donovan, a spokeswoman for the Laurel Highlands Visitors Bureau.

The tourism grants program is funded by one-third of the revenue generated by the three percent lodging tax paid by guests staying in lodging property in the county. The visitors bureau has distributed $3.89 million since the tourism grants program began in 2002.

As an indication of the economic impact of tourism, visitors spent more than $742 million in Westmoreland County in 2013, contributing to the overall visitor spending of $1.8 billion in the three-county Laurel Highlands, according to the Annual Economic Impact of Pennsylvania Travel and Tourism Report.

Joe Napsha is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at jnapsha@tribweb.com or 724-836-5252. Staff writer Craig Smith contributed to this story. He can be reached at csmith@tribweb.com or 412-380-5646.

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