Friday, February 1, 2019

Good Things are Happening


It’s February. It’s freezing. It’s still winter. It won’t be spring for six more weeks no matter what the ground hog says tomorrow. These are facts, folks. There are good things happening all over Schuylkill County. That’s a fact, too.

That’s right, I said it’s a fact, and it is. Working for the visitors’ bureau affords me a lot of opportunities to witness these good things happening all over Schuylkill County firsthand. Whether it’s Shenandoah partnering with Penn State for their innovation center project or Sweet Arrow Lake County Park making improvements on the pavilion project and boat docks, positive progress is all around us.

Schuylkill County’s Vision always has positive things going on around our community. They’ve nurtured the Schuylkill County Youth Summit that engages and empowers an incredible group of young people to make an ongoing impact in the county for seven years now. They’ve expanded Healthy Schuylkill Communities with programming in Mahanoy City, Shenandoah, and Schuylkill Haven that ranges from cooking classes, walking groups, indoor and outdoor yoga, to community gardens. And that’s just a tiny fraction of the positive contributions Schuylkill County’s Vision makes.

Another valuable organization investing in philanthropy in our community is the Schuylkill Area Community Foundation. They work to meet critical community needs and support local causes in the areas of arts and culture, education, environment, community, health and wellness, and human services. Their work continues to grow, benefitting citizens and organizations throughout our county.

The arts are growing and thriving all over Schuylkill County. We currently enjoy five organizations dedicated to providing our community with the full complement of benefits that the arts bestow. They include Walk In Art Center in Schuylkill Haven, Schuylkill County Council for the Arts in Pottsville, Tamaqua Community Art Center in Tamaqua, The Arts Barn in Orwigsburg, and Mud & Maker in Pottsville. Additionally, the Walk In Art Center is home to our partnered regional folk art center covering Schuylkill, Berks, and Carbon counties.

Community revitalization, albeit a slow process, is expanding throughout the county. In Pottsville, their continued progress project began with self-funding a consulting firm to provide a full-scale strategic revitalization plan with an action matrix that is currently being executed, a hotel study, two large, successful public events, new businesses opening, more exciting changes on the way, and most importantly, positive people getting involved and working together. Companies like Hydro in Cressona and Sara Lee in Highridge Industrial Park are building, expanding, and creating new jobs. A new hospital, with new jobs, is taking shape on route 61 in Orwigsburg thanks to collaboration between Geisinger and St. Luke’s. Comfort Inn & Suites in Barnesville won the Choice Hotel 2018 Platinum Award for operational excellence and superior customer service. Tamaqua is in its 4th year of successful implementation of the CRIZ program which is a city revitalization and improvement zone program designed to invest community tax dollars as financing to grow community businesses and stimulate economic development. Fifteen Fortune 500 companies now have facilities in the county. The Schuylkill County Airport continues to expand, investing in facility improvements that enable a larger variety of aircraft, both corporate and otherwise, to serve our community businesses and industries. It’s a fact, folks: we are experiencing growth, and good things are happening.

All around the county, exciting and innovative small businesses are cropping up like Pressed Coffee and Books in Pottsville and Alchemist’s Cove, a comic book and gaming store in Schuylkill Haven. Small businesses are so important to revitalization that Penn State University chose Schuylkill Haven as one of a few locations in the commonwealth to establish an Innovation Hub and Lion Launch, a community-based entrepreneurship program that provides funding and mentorship to start and grow businesses. In recent years we’ve experienced growth in nano breweries, distilleries, wineries, and restaurants in communities across the county. Famous Reading Outdoors, yet another newer business in Schuylkill County is making big investments in their outdoor recreation area including over 650 miles of mapped trails. Our regional neighbors, Anthracite Outdoor Adventure Area made the news recently for undertaking a hotel study due to their incredible growth.

Outdoor recreation is a vibrant part of the quality of life we enjoy in Schuylkill County. In this category, good things are happening everywhere. I’ve already mentioned Famous Reading Outdoors’ expansions and improvements. The Schuylkill River Greenways Association is investing heavily in and working diligently to complete more areas of the Schuylkill River Trail in Schuylkill County and has made our county a top priority in their work. The Valley View Park continues to increase amenities and add events and programming to their schedule. In recent years, Hawk Mountain made improvements to trails that increased handicapped accessibility. They are also partnering with Ecology Project International to offer high school students a once-in-a-lifetime experience working with the National Park Service on ongoing research at Yellowstone. The Schuylkill Headwaters Association and their partners will be offering the Acts and Impacts watershed program this summer. Acts and Impacts is a week-long watershed expedition in the Schuylkill River watershed. The application for students can be found at schuylkillheadwaters.org with a deadline of March 22nd.

But wait, there’s more! This year is Yuengling Brewery’s 190th Anniversary! 190 years of brewing, outliving both prohibition and the demise of the regional brewery is quite a feat, and they’ve decided to celebrate with a summer concert celebration that will bring people and their money to our community to celebrate a core piece of our heritage. Muhammad Ali’s training camp, Fighter’s Heaven, in Deer Lake is being restored and can provide information and tours to students and teachers about the American boxer’s time here. Tamaqua invested in providing a recovery-friendly environment by opening Hope & Coffee, an organization that supports and normalizes recovery from addiction, provides job opportunities for people in recovery, as well as a recovery-positive environment for people to socialize. The Majestic Theater recently invested in building a new, bigger, and safer stage. The Henry Clay, one of the last anthracite locomotives in operation, whose home is Pioneer Tunnel and Coal Mine, underwent a full restoration last year and is in fine fettle and ready to serve for years to come. Lakewood Park is building their brand new Catalpa Grove event venue with a campground scheduled to follow. The Schuylkill County Fair continues to thrive and grow for 36 years and counting. At the visitors’ bureau we continue to invest in video projects and marketing plans designed to bring visitors and their dollars to Schuylkill County, thus growing tourism’s economic impact. The list goes on and on.

So the next time you’re out and about and someone says to you, “Nothing good ever happens here,” or “When is it going to get better around here?” you can give them the facts.

Friday, January 4, 2019


Happy New Year from the Schuylkill County Visitors Bureau! A New Year calls to mind resolutions and at the visitors’ bureau our resolution is to work hard at giving you reasons to explore and enjoy Schuylkill County so we've created a Skook New Year’s resolution list!

Now, we know most people don't keep their new year's resolutions. In fact, 92% of all New Year's resolutions are broken with 80% of them broken by February but we feel confident that we'll be able to keep ours and help you enjoy our community throughout all of 2019. Keep in mind that this list merely scratches the surface. You can go to our website at www.schuylkill.org to sign up for our enewsletter and peruse our craft beverage trail, online maps, and other resources. You can also stop by the visitors’ center and pick up the brand new 2019 Visitors’ Guide, the Schuylkill County Outdoor Recreation Map, Schuylkill River Trail Map, and Northeast Pennsylvania Hiking and Biking Trails Map. Our partners at skoocal.com have the best online event calendar in the community. We know that with all of this at your disposal, plus the Skook New Year's resolution list, we're going to succeed in keeping our resolution and you're going to enjoy everything Schuylkill County has to offer in 2019!

·      Take a painting, pottery, or drawing class at Tamaqua Community ArtsCenter, Mud & Maker, The Arts Barn, or Walk In Art Center.
·      Enjoy delicious fresh fruit and vegetables every week at the HometownFarmers Market, Stone Mountain Wine Cellars, or Little Peace Farms.
·      Delve deep (1800 feet deep to be exact) into our Anthracite mining heritage and go on the Pioneer Tunnel Mine Tour.
·      Test your competitive eating mettle and enter the grilled cheese challenge at Wheel Restaurant or the pierogie eating contest at Pottsville OnTap.
·      Have a special family photo taken at Hope Hill Lavender Farm. Details are on their website at hopehilllavenderfarm.com.  
·      Reach new heights hiking to the top of Hawk Mountain.
·      Try something different and camp in a yurt at Tuscarora State Park.
·      Improve your putt with a round of mini golf at Heisler’s Dairy Bar.
·      Celebrate the 190th Anniversary of American's Oldest Brewery by taking some friends on the Yuengling Brewery tour.
·      Take a relaxing break with java and crepes at Pressed Coffee & Books.
·      Learn some innovative ways to improve your health and overall well-being with interesting foods and ideas from Peace Frog Natural Foods and HealthyHabits Market.
·      Embrace our community's eastern European roots with the many delicacies Kowalonek's Kielbasy Shop has to offer.
·      Treat someone you love to an indulgence from Something Sweet Candies, C&C's Candies, and Momma Millie’s.
·      Try your hand at something new at Alchemist's Cove Games and Comics.
·      Share tapas with friends at The Crimson House.
·      Enjoy a pint at "The Speakeasy Secret Room", a reputed Molly Maguire's hangout since 1866, at the Wooden Keg.
·      Get your BBQ on with some award winning vittles at The Pink Pig.
·      Give your taste buds a thrill with the famous “pickle pizza” at Roma or the over-the-top “big mac pizza” at Red Lion Café.
·      Start training for the 2020 Yuengling Light Lager Jogger race & register in early October!
·      Take off into blue skies on your own tour with the good folks at the Schuylkill County airport.
·      Create your very own pour tour on our craft beverage trail at http://schuylkill.org/pour-tours-and-more/
·      Experience the German biergarten atmosphere of Stoker's Brewing Company and fill a growler to take home too!
·      Hit the newer completed sections of the Schuylkill River Trail or make tracks with Schuylkill On the Move.
·      Get muddy on over 600 mapped miles of trails with Famous ReadingOutdoors.
·      Build a Snowman at Pottsville Winterfest on January 12th.
·      Kick up your heels at the Annual Girardville Saint Patrick's Day Parade.
·      Step back in time at Jerry's Classic Cars & Collectibles Museum.
·      Discover our unique collective history and volunteer at the Schuylkill County Historical Society.

Monday, July 6, 2015

Get Outside and Enjoy!


As I sit at my computer, clicketty-clacking away the sky is perfectly blue, dotted with puffy clouds and the sun is shining. I’d rather be outside in my kayak feeling the sun’s warming rays than here in my air-conditioned office, but I am not and don’t expect to be until the weekend.  I recently had the pleasure of kayaking our own Schuylkill River on a Sunday after the previous evening’s storms and wow, was it ever fun!  It was basically a 3-hour log flume ride. We put in at the Terry Reiley boat launch on 901 in Pottsville and went to Schuylkill Haven and I have to tell you, it’s a short, fun stretch in our backyard that even uncoordinated me can handle so keep your eye one the weather and try it after a heavy rainfall.

While I’m yakking kayaks, if you’re thinking about trying this wonderful activity but need some instruction, we’ve got an excellent opportunity for you. Tuscarora State Park is hosting Basic Kayaking Courses on the 10th, 17th & 24th. Registration is required for these courses by calling 570.467.2506. You can also find complete information at dcnr.state.pa.us under the calendar of events.

July takes us deeper into summer and I, for one, am very grateful. I enjoy being outdoors in the sunshine and we’ve got plenty of chances to do just that. Hawk Mountain has a full schedule of both children’s and adult programming that culminates with the opening of the Accessible Trail Celebration on the 26th.  If hiking’s your thing, there’s lots to be had. There’s a Long Loop Hike on the 4th and a Spirit Trail Hike on the 18th, both at Tuscarora State Park. The Silver Creek Fire Tower Hike is on the 2nd and Bats: Fact and Fiction is on the 4th, both at Locust Lake State Park. These hikes are free and open to the public; just call 570.467.2506 for complete information and registration. The Mystical Red Hole Ramble Hike on the 12th, combines hiking and history with a look at this historic site from the 1750s French and Indian War. Our dear friend, Porcupine Pat, can fill you in on the details of the Mystical Red Hole Ramble at porcupinepat@yahoo.com or 570.622.4124 x113
Pottsville’s City Cycle 17 is on the 25th.  Our friends at Galen Glen Winery in Andreas are hosting winery walking tours on the 3rd, 4th, 5th 12th & 18th and Sweet Arrow Lake County Park is holding their “Sneak a Peak at the Creek” program on the 11th.

July also commemorates the birth of our Nation and there will be plenty of picnics, fireworks, and fun in the sun all month long! Check out our calendar of events at www.schuylkill.org for a list of fireworks throughout Schuylkill County.  Another 4th of July tradition in Schuylkill County, Saint Nick’s Annual Parish Picnic, begins today and runs through the weekend. This Schuylkill County event has it all; plenty of good food, good entertainment and good people. Sweet Arrow Lakes hosts their annual “4th of July Concert in the Park” tomorrow at 6 p.m.  The Anthracite Philharmonic brings us their own patriotic concert on the 5th at Schuylkill County Council for the Arts.  More concerts this month include: Tamaqua Area Chamber of Commerce Free Summer Concert Series on the 9th & 23rd on the platform of the 1874 Tamaqua Train Station and Heisler’s Dairy Bar’s Night in the Country Summer Concert Series, on the 12th, 18th, 19th & 26th.

Perhaps dinner theater is more your style? The Schuylkill County Council for the Arts will put on their John O’Hara Dinner Theater at the Schuylkill Country Club again this year on the 29th, 30th & 31st with The Way it Was. Don’t miss this opportunity to step back in time to the Philadelphia Ritz-Carlton of the 1920’s while supporting local art and enjoying one of our county’s literary giants.

The variety continues this month with Saint Clair’s Car Cruise on the 11th, No. 9 Mine’s Coal Miners Heritage Festival on the 12th, Benigna’s Creek Winery’s Pig Roast on the 25th, Longtrout Winery’s Blue Grass Blow-Out on the 25th and the new North of the Mountain Bus Bash on the 25th. Join Porcupine Pat and Friends as they travel northern Schuylkill County to discover it’s bountiful natural and historical treasures. This is a must-register event so once again contact our dear friend Porcupine Pat at porcupinepat@yahoo.com or 570.622.4124 x113.

It wouldn’t be July in Schuylkill County without the Schuylkill County Fair. The fair  runs July 27th through August 1st this year. Celebrating 32 years, the fair is chock full of food, entertainment and activities designed to please all ages. This year, our fair has a new competition I’m excited to tell you about, the Schuylkill Grown Cooking Contest! Schuylkill Grown is an initiative of the agribusiness committee of the Schuylkill Chamber of Commerce designed to increase awareness of and encourage use of local agricultural products. The Schuylkill Grown Cooking Contest is open to all ages with both youth and adult categories. The complete list of rules and participation requirements, along with a list of Schuylkill Grown providers, can be found on the fair’s website at www.schuylkillfair.com . You can also stop by the visitor’s center and pick up both the fair premium book and entertainment schedule.

Speaking of local agriculture, the Schuylkill County Wine Festival is September 6th  this year and tickets are on sale now at the Visitors’ Center. For more information on any of the great July events in Schuylkill County visit www.schuylkill.org . As always, please keep an eye out for visitors as you enjoy summer in our backyard. Offer them a warm welcome as they explore the events, activities, attractions and outdoor recreation we are privileged to enjoy every day.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Italian Restaurants in Schuylkill County

I just returned from one of my many whirlwind tours of the county, delivering visitors guides, visiting member businesses and checking out the summer scenery. Of course I have to eat along the way.



A few weeks ago, Donna Boyd from the Peace Frog asked me when I was going to write about local restaurants again. I was surprised that anyone was even reading my blog, so I was naturally surprised that I had at least one fan. Since talking to Donna, I actually visited four Italian Restaurants around Schuylkill County. So here's the skinny according to Mark Major, whose taste buds have been getting a work-out.







Roma Pizza in downtown Pottsville: Working in the downtown, I tend to visit often for lunch and even to take home a pizza (when it's my turn to cook). My favorites at Roma? The Italian Salad is great! (Don't tell Pete and Pete that I give the black olives to my wife though.) I also love their Regular Pizza and Garlic Knots! Many times people who visit our office are sent to Roma on their way up the hill to the Brewery.







Original Italian Pizza in Frackville: I stopped in there last month during my Upper Schuylkill run. The Chicken Parmiagana Sandwich was yummy and hit the spot. But the biggest taste surprise was the Spinich Tortellini Soup. Growing up I was never a Spinich fan (even though Popeye was always trying to push the stuff on kids), but that soup was really something special.







Roman Delight at the Fairlane Village Mall: My wife and I broke away from the kids one Saturday Night and headed up to the Fairlane Village (Mall) and Roman Delight. One of the Dinner Specials was "The Roman Delight". It included a ravioli, a boneless babyback rib and something else .. (it was last month, so please bear with me). It was one of the best Entrees I have had around Schuylkill County. I just called up there and they said it was one of last month specials and is not always on the menu. Rats! I wanted to know all the components, so I guess you will haev to find out for yourself. If you ever see it on the menu, try it!




Marchiano's in New Ringgold: Kathy Miller (Cellist Kathy) who lives in the New Ringgold area, and helps distribute brochures in that corner of the county, recommended I visit Marchiano's. So today on my "Tour de Skook", I drove by, turned around on a back street and had my lunch there. I asked for the most unique item on the menu. The waitress recommended the "Schiacciata". I had to ask for the pronunciation, but even now, I can not even attempt it. Anyway ... The Schiacciata is basically an Italian Sub without the lettuce and roll, but baked on a thin crust, pita looking dough (top and bottom). In the middle ... Ham, Capicola, Salami, Provolone Cheese, Three large tomato slices, onion and a seasoning. Fresh, warm and tasty, I had to put my reading glasses on to get a closer look. Another Yummy lunch in Schuylkill County.

Oh and I went up to Heisler's for a small ice cream for dessert.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Fathers Day Weekend

Father's day weekend is finally here. I know all of you fathers and even a few mothers are happy that this weekend has arrived, because as you all know, Dad gets to pick the family activities this weekend. Yes, Father's now get a weekend not just a day.

This weekend in Schuylkill County is a busy one .. again. The question is where is Dad going to decide to drag the family? I have a few ideas. (And by the way, if you don't like my ideas, then just go to the Visitors Bureau Calendar and see what floats your boat!

On Saturday we have a few choices to brag about.




First the Gordon Music Festival. This year's event features a variety of entertainments from many genres. Here is the line up for the main stage:





12:00 - 12:50 * Schuylkill Express Barbershop Chorus
1:15 - 2:30 Polka * The Golden Tones
2:45 - 3:15 Country * Michael Carl
3:30 - 4:15 * Coal Hole Soul
4:45 - 6:00 Oldies * Shama/lama
6:30 - 7:45 Bluegrass * The Hickory Project
8:15 - 9:30 Southern * The Bounty Hunter Gang
10:00 - 11:00 Rock * Kinsey











We also have two special winery related events going on Saturday. Stone Mountain Wine Cellars is having their Annual Winebration from 11 am - 5 pm at 1615 Panther Valley Road, Pine Grove. That's 3 miles northwest of Friedensburg near Hidden Valley Golf Course. Just follow the signs to Jersey Acres Market. Stone Mountain Wine Cellars is celebrating 4 years of wine making. Join them for free wine tastings, wine specials and great snacks. Oh and they say their delicious strawberries are ripe! 11 am - 5 pm.


And hey, if you can not make it there on Saturday, they do it all again on Sunday!

Over at Long Trout Winery at 84 Fork Mountain Road check out Island Day (formerly Pirate Day). This is supposed to be a jammin' good time with Jimmy and the Parrots providing fantastic tuneage. According to the press release, beware of he who carries the limbo stick.


On Sunday June 21st, Tamaqua celebrates with their annual Summerfest in the downtown featuring crafts, ethnic foods, free musical entertainment, Tamaqua Street Machine Association antique/classic car show, historic site tours, and much more.
So all of you fathers out there need to get out of the house and explore Schuylkill County this weekend. This is your weekend to get out of the house and do what you want to do, so make plans and enjoy the day (weekend actually).


Thursday, June 18, 2009

Kielbasy Festival 2009

I know it has been more than two months since my last entry, but I was recently inspired to get back on the Blog and get blogging again.


A few weeks ago I made my way to Shenandoah for the 2nd annual Kielbasy festival. Yeah I had to park two blocks away, but the walk was well worth it. Weather-wise the day was perfect. Sunny and warm with a few white puffy clouds and I was headed off to the place of yummy food.



Now since I am trying hard to maintain my ... figure, I resolved to just try two Kielbasy sandwiches. It isn't really fair, because I enjoy Kielbasy, so there was no way I was going to be disappointed. First I tried Lucky's smoked kielbasy with kraut, and then made my way over to Kowalonek's for the same. Both were perfect!! But there was no way I could down another one from the folks at Capital .. maybe next year. Let me just say that I had avoided eating earlier that morning so I could have enough room for food that afternoon. I am glad I did!


But hey, that one block of Main Street was full of people from all over the place. John Guers was there from Upper Schuylkill, Mary Luscavage was running the show from the Downtown Shenandoah Inc. office and Steve Pytak was covering the event for the Republican and Herald. The turn-out was great.


Since it was a Shenandoah event, of course I found Mrs T's Pierogies on hand selling their product to the crowd. Across the street, Dot Demmer had her booth set up and her T-shirts were being sold left and right. I proudly wore my Coal Region Culinary Institute T-Shirt from Demmer Graphics. Throughout the crowd you could see dozens of Kielbasi Festival T-shirts (made by Dot Demmer of course). But I still don't know what "Sto Lat" means!

According to reports, there were a few thousand people attending this year's Kielbasy Festival. I was there for only an hour, but I saw at least a thousand people enjoying the day. You have to go to Shenandoah for next year's festival!







Wednesday, April 1, 2009

The Garfield Diner. Not just for Breakfast or Lunch

I feel the need to report to you about my recent visit to the Garfield Diner in Pottsville.


In Schuylkill County we have a variety of dining options, especially when it comes to lunch. Now working in Pottsville, there are still several places to eat and yesterday, I made my way to the Garfield Diner along Market Street.


Over the last nine months, the Garfield Diner has been transformed by Bill and Lena Kontogiannis. Prior to operating the Garfield Diner, Bill ran a restaurant in Lancaster PA. But anyway .. over the last few months I have stopped in for lunch, and have developed a strong liking for their soup. Since the Pottsville Eatery closed two years ago, I have been searching for a great soup (or two) at lunchtime.

Yesterday my choices were Crab Vegetable, Cream of Brocolli and Chili. The problem with that is, they are all favorites of mine. So hey, I asked for a bowl of Crab Veggie and the Cream of Brocolli. Good choice. Both were warm, tasty and simply perfect.


Let me rewind. When I stopped at the diner, I noticed that a crew from Sam Son Productions was just wrapping up a shoot inside the diner. On the counter, I noticed a Club Sandwich nicely decorated on a plate, alongside a plate of a meat dish that was laid atop a bed of rice and topped with a mushroom sauce. A freshly cut piece of cake was positioned right next to that. I figured, the crew was shooting the food as part of the commercial. So getting back to my soup ...

As I finished my soup, Bill was taking the two platters back to the kitchen and I remarked it was a shame that he had to get rid of the food. He looked at me and asked if I would like either dish. I hesitated (because I finished both of my soups) but told him that the meat dish looked tasty. He said, "that's the Veal Marsala, would you like it?" I looked at him and said, "Okay. Looks good!" So, on an almost full stomach, I dug right in.


Let's just say it was the first time I ever had Veal Marsala for lunch and I was glad I asked him about the dish. You see, over the years, the Garfield Diner has gotten a reputation for being just a typical breakfast and lunch diner with your typical sandwiches, soups and simple entrees. Bill explained to me again, that he wants people to see the diner in a new light. He wants people to consider the Garfield Diner as a place to have dinner and not just breakfast and lunch.

The Garfield Diner may look like just any other 1950's style diner from the outside, but you really need to consider visiting not only for Breakfast and Lunch, but for dinner as well.

And hey, don't forget to have the soup!