By David Rockower
The Happy Valley Women’s Cycling group is led by founder and president, Tanya Campbell. Photo: Happy Valley Women’s Cycling.
Even for life-long Happy Valley residents, it’s easy to miss just how much our area has to offer. Many of us remain tucked away at home, planning the occasional vacation to get out of town. But what are we missing right here? What opportunities and experiences haven’t we tried? Whether it’s hiking, biking, kayaking, visiting museums, perusing arts festivals or attending a concert, the offerings are abundant. These same opportunities draw visitors to the area, and it’s The Happy Valley Adventure Bureau (HVAB) that strives to increase visitation and build a sense of community in Centre County.
Fritz Smith, president and CEO at HVAB understands that Penn State is a driving force for visitation in Centre County. However, he also wants visitors to know that the region is much more than a university town and, to support visitation for reasons beyond Penn State, the HVAB offers its grant program, benefiting events, business and attractions ranging from Happy Valley Comic-Con to The Rothrock Gravel Grit Grinder, The Bellefonte Art Museum to The Central Pennsylvania Festival of the Arts. Grants are typically given to support marketing efforts geared toward bringing people to the area or to help with physical enhancements to facilities like The Bellefonte Art Museum or the Centre County Historical Society. In the current grant year alone, HVAB has awarded $688,000 in partnership with Centre County Commissioners.
“These funds are really geared for trying to help those organizations expand their reach, expand their marketing radius and try to attract people from further out. If somebody's going to come to an event from Philadelphia, New York or Cleveland, chances are pretty good they're going to stay the night. When they stay the night, they're going to eat breakfast somewhere, they're going to buy gas on the way out of town, and so it's just a virtuous cycle that creates a lot of economic impact.”
“There’s an online application process that begins in February and closes on April 14. From there, a grant review committee will analyze them, make recommendations and take them to the Happy Valley Adventure Bureau Board and we'll vote on them one by one,” explained Smith.
He added, “These funds are really geared for trying to help those organizations expand their reach, expand their marketing radius and try to attract people from further out. If somebody's going to come to an event from Philadelphia, New York or Cleveland, chances are pretty good they're going to stay the night. When they stay the night, they're going to eat breakfast somewhere, they're going to buy gas on the way out of town, and so it's just a virtuous cycle that creates a lot of economic impact.”
The amount of grant money that HVAB awarded each year had been fairly consistent — until the Covid-19 pandemic.
“When people stopped traveling for Covid-19, that really put the brakes on the amount we were able to give out,” said Smith.
But, he added that many people relocated to the area after they were given the ability to work remotely and, since 2020, the business of leisure travel has bounced back. He said, “Mom and Dad getting in the car with their kids for a getaway weekend — that market has recovered completely.”
“I’ve pretty much traveled everywhere [for racing], and I know what we have here is really a gem; it’s pretty special."
There are other segments that have been slower to return, though.
“Motorcoach group tours and business meetings have been slow to come back. A lot of the business meetings that helped fill up hotels during the middle of the week were very slow to come back. I feel like that market is probably about 70% back now. Motorcoach group tours are probably 40% back,” explained Smith.
The Rowland Theatre is one of 60 grant recipients awarded by The Happy Valley Advenure Bureau in its current grant year. Photo: The Happy Valley Adventure Bureau.
Tanya Campbell is the president and creator of Happy Valley Women’s Cycling. Campbell has worked tirelessly to build a strong community of female cyclists in the region and she created The Seasons Of Rothrock Race Series — two mountain bike races and two gravel races — that take place in April, June, September and December. The popular Rothrock Grit Gravel Grinder, which started in 2020 with just over 300 riders, had over 500 riders in 2022.
Campbell sought HVAB grant support in order to show riders how lucky Happy Valley residents are to have a forest like Rothrock in the backyard.
“I’ve pretty much traveled everywhere [for racing], and I know what we have here is really a gem; it’s pretty special,” said Campbell.
Another reason for seeking grant support was Campbell’s desire to increase female ridership in these events. “One of our biggest challenges was going to be able to fill half of the race participant list with women. It’s pretty typical for only 10% of the race to be women at any given cycling event. So to get up to 50% was going to be pretty hard, and we needed some help from outside influences,” said Campbell.
The grants received from HVAB have helped to grow the events by adding photographers, videographers and marketing specialists. In addition to helping support the races, the grants have allowed Happy Valley Women’s Cycling to donate $44,000 to local nonprofits.
“One of our biggest challenges was going to be able to fill half of the race participant list with women. It’s pretty typical for only 10% of the race to be women at any given cycling event. So to get up to 50% was going to be pretty hard, and we needed some help from outside influences."
“The more help that we can get from outside people, whether it be the HVAB or sponsorship, the more that we're able to give back to the community,” said Campbell.
Housed in a historic property in Bellefonte, the Bellefonte Art Museum showcases seven galleries, featuring art from our region and beyond. The museum includes a unique display window allowing visitors to view art from outside the building. Lori Fisher, deputy director of the museum, explained that the HVAB’s grants have helped increase visitation and membership.
“We have seen a growth in our visitor attendance and our membership because of this funding. As we continue to grow and develop exhibitions and programming, we rely on the HVAB's support to promote tourism, which opens the museum to communities even beyond Centre County,” said Fisher.
The museum also received its first Resource Improvement Grant this past year. The grant allowed the museum to enhance its permanent Underground Railroad Exhibition, "A Journey to Freedom."
“This funding allowed us the opportunity to add an additional webpage to our existing website, develop an Underground Railroad creative activity for visitors, research and develop curriculum for students and families and print takeaway material for further learning about the Underground Railroad,” explained Fisher.
From 2015-2022, The Bellefonte Art Museum has received grants to help with marketing and the enhancement of a permanent Underground Railroad exhibition. Photo: The Bellefonte Art Museum.
Looking ahead to the future, Smith and his team hope to increase its financial support of Happy Valley initiatives.
“I think probably the high watermark was around $750,000 three years ago. I anticipate that, as we recover and pull our way out of Covid-19 — which I think we have now — we'll be back on track for getting back to that $750,000. I told the county commissioners I want this to hit a million in grants within a couple of years and I think we're going to get there.”
But for some travelers who visit Happy Valley and fall in love with its charms, the occasional weekend trip isn’t enough. Talk to locals long enough and you’ll soon discover that Happy Valley is a region that attracts hordes of transplants, flocking to the area for its mixture of big-city amenities and a small-town vibe, ample outdoor recreation and business opportunities.
Are you one of those full-time resident hopefuls (or do you know someone who is)? Here are even more reasons why you should consider a move to Happy Valley.