SUNBURY — Valley businesses and organizations have been honored for their perseverance, evolution and contribution to revitalizing tourism in the region.
Six different organizations have received awards dating back three years to 2020, the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to Timothy Dowhower, chief marketing officer for the Susquehanna River Valley Visitors Bureau. The businesses were recognized at a special Visitors Bureau event at Whispering Oaks Vineyard on Tuesday evening.
“They all did something unique that had a huge impact on the Susquehanna River Valley,” Dowhower said.
UnPAved in Susquehanna River Vally, Spyglass Ridge Winery in Sunbury, and Joy Through the Grove in Knoebels received the Herb Bendt Award, given for events, businesses or individuals that act positively toward tourism in the Valley.
Shamokin Area Businesses for Economic Revitalization (SABRE), Nomad Distilling Company, Williamsport, and Covered Bridge Brewhaus in Shamokin received the Dan Baylor Tourism Entrepreneurial Award. The award is given to individuals and organizations demonstrating an exemplary spirit in tourism.
Herb Bendt UnPAved recipient of the Susquehanna River Valley is one of the top 10 gravel events – biking on unpaved roads and trails – in the United States
“They kind of reinvented themselves,” Dowhower said. “We are extremely proud to have these businesses located in the valley.”
He said events like UnPAved make the region a unique destination.
Dave Pryor, co-founder of UnPAved, said he wanted to create a more localized event for off-road cyclists, a flagship event on the east coast. He said there are many different sides to UnPAved.
“The railroad was key,” said co-founder Mike Kuhn. “And then it took us out into the forest, and it was huge. That’s what makes it work.”
“That was key,” Pryor said.
Both Pryor and Kuhn attend the events with attendees.
UnPAved, which begins Oct. 9 and is expected to have 1,500 attendees this year, has other events happening around it, such as a boot camp, and expanding into nightly events, according to Pryor.
“Entrants can start the day before,” Pryor said. “I don’t know if we know exactly where we are going, but there are a lot of opportunities.”
Breakfast is provided, they said.
Pryor credited the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR) and the Bald Eagle State Forest for being active participants.
As for the impact beyond the trails, popular events have prompted hotels to offer special packages around UnPAved, according to Pryor.
Spyglass Ridge Winery, now in its 21st year, was the region’s first winery and, along with five other wineries, started the valley’s wine route, according to owner Tom Webb.
Webb, a former sound engineer, said there were now 18 wineries on the track and two more ready to board.
“Feels good. It’s really good because you’re still working. It’s kind of a gift to feel recognized,” Webb said.
The cellar live venue also drew audiences from New York, Philadelphia, Maryland and Virginia to see artists like Sheryl Crow, ZZ Top and Jeff Dunham.
The 2023 concerts will feature Stix, REO Speedwagon and Skillet.
Some attendees came from as far away as New Zealand, according to Webb’s wife, Tammy Webb.
“To me, that’s the really cool thing, we attract people,” said Tom Webb.
Tammy said one of the reasons they came was that no one knew Sunbury.
“People now know where Sunbury is,” she said.
“When we built the cellar, everyone thought we were crazy,” said Tom Webb.
Next on Spyglass’ to-do list? A distillery.
“Hopefully. We’ll see with the economy,” Webb said.
Knoebels began his joy through Grove’s drive-thru holiday exhibit during the pandemic as a gift to the community.
“It’s brought a bit of joy while maintaining a safe environment,” said Jon Slodysko, Knoebels’ chief operating officer, who has worked at the park for 27 years. “We are very grateful for the recognition and our fans and guests who recognize our hard work.”
He said he hopes people will come back to the park in the future.
Covered Bridge Brewhaus, with a team of 15 employees – including two new brewers and six bartenders – took advantage of the opportunities presented by the pandemic.
“Proud to be part of Shamokin’s revitalization,” said Brewhaus owner Eric Kuijpers. “COVID hit us but we kept changing our strategy. Instead of closing the door, we kept trying different ways to make it work.
Kuijpers called the award unexpected and said it was humbling to receive it. The business has been running for seven years – business is good, he said – and has grown from one store to three and now hosts outdoor events.
The addition of Kuijpers’ girlfriend, Cindy, as director took the business “to a new level”, he said.
Another Dan Baylor Award winner, SABER, has been an integral part of Shamokin’s revitalization.
SABER was an initiative of State Representative Kurt Masser, according to agency president Kathy Vetovich.
“I took over and that was the catalyst from there,” Vetovich said.
Ten years ago, Shamokin looked like another depressed little town.
Vetovich said that during the pandemic, 10 new businesses came to Shamokin.
“It wasn’t just because of SABER, but they provided the impetus for new ventures,” Vetovich said. “We are very collaborative in what we do. There are many different facets to SABER.
“Working with the Visitors Bureau opens up so many opportunities. For them to recognize us, it is certainly an honor to make a difference in the region.