My son Chris agreed without hesitation when I suggested we visit The Tom Ridge Environmental Center during our visit to Erie, Pennsylvania. Although Chris had worked at a bait shop nearby, he hadn’t accepted the invitation on the marquee encouraging people to visit the Center and to see the “Mysteries of The Great Lakes” and “Journey Into Amazing Caves” movies showing on the Big Green Screen. That was something tourists do, not folks who live in the Erie area. I ask, “Why not?”
Why wouldn’t people want to enjoy these local opportunities? Does local mean that it can’t be good enough to merit a visit? In all of our 10,000 Mile Grand Tour, I have found an apologetic hesitancy in people’s response to my inquiry: “We are traveling through your community. What do you suggest we see or do?”
Often, I hear a list of ideas but when I ask about their own visit to an attraction or engagement in a possible experience, I am surprised at the rather common answer. “I’ve never been there myself.” When I ask, “Why not?” Folks just smile sheepishly and shrug.
I would like to propose that people become tourists in their own communities. This simply makes good sense for several reasons. First, you don’t have to drive great distances to enjoy a venue. Second, it supports the local economy. Third, you might reach beyond the false mentality that “there’s really nothing to do around here.” And, finally, you become an ambassador for your own community who can give visitors a red carpet welcome when they roll into town.
Perhaps the Chambers of Commerce, Convention & Visitors Bureaus, and State Tourist Offices need to spend less of their budget on slick brochures and booths in far away cities. Familiarization tours need to begin in their own region. Just start with folks manning the registers at the convenience stores where the majority of travelers stop for a bottled water, newspaper or bathroom break. Perhaps a Community Day just for people in town might work too.
If folks in town really think “there’s nothing to do” or continue to have “never been there”, I fear that someday local venues will be lost or forgotten.
We enjoyed our visit to the Tom Ridge Environmental Center, our walk along the downtown Erie pier, and our time at the sandy shores of Lake Erie's Presque Isle State Park. Thanks, Chris for showing us around Erie!
The Tom Ridge Environmental Center (TREC) opened in May 2006 as the “Gateway to Presque Isle State Park.” Exhibits showcase the history of Presque Isle, its nature, animals, fish, unique sand formations, birding migration points, and endangered flora and fauna. The interactive and whimsical Asher Family Three Towers Exhibit for kids is fun for adults too. An elevator ride up the TREC 75 foot tower provides an unobstructed view of Lake Erie & amusement park – Waldameer Water World. There’s a snack bar and Nature Gift Shop on site as well. Up to three film choices per day are available on the Big Green Screen in the theater seating 175 people. TREC has free admission; the theater has a modest admission fee.
The Tom Ridge Environmental Center
“Gateway to Presque Isle State Park”