County Commissioners Lay out the Montco Welcome Mat

National Travel and Tourism Week continues, a program of the U.S. Travel Association (USTA) to encourage stepping away from the normal routine, even just for a short period. In exploring the "travel effect," the group cites compelling statistics when it comes to Americans and the benefits of vacationing:

  • Couples that travel together are more likely to make it past the five-year mark and less likely to divorce. They're also more likely to share goals and more easily overcome differences.
  • More than 90 percent of kids see family vacations as a chance for "quality time" with parents. Kids who travel are more likely to earn a college degree and have a $5,000-higher median income as adults.
  • People who travel are less stressed and happier at work. Eight in 10 seniors say travel makes them feel energized. Also, travel memories are lasting: Studies show that into our 50s and beyond, we remember childhood trips vividly.

Yet, U.S. workers are unfortunately lax about making space on their calendars for time away. According to USTA statistics, employees skipped an average of 3.2 days of paid time off in 2013, withholding $160 billion in business revenue from the national economy.

Among the area's most fervent cheerleaders are the members of the Montgomery County Board of Commissioners: Josh Shapiro, Chair; Leslie Richards, Vice Chair; and Bruce L. Castor, Jr., Commissioner. They generously shared their thoughts on the visibility - and visit-ability - of our area, including thoughts on their own experiences of the travel effect."

For Bruce Castor, a life-long Montgomery County resident, one of our strongest draws is history. "I'm a member of Abington Presbyterian Church, which was founded in 1714," he says. "Hanging on the wall of our church is the original land grant, signed by the then-Justice of the Peace Benjamin Franklin. I always thought that was neat. The area has so many contacts with the Revolutionary War. There was a march of the British on the way to the skirmish at the Battle of Edge Hill (December 5-8, 1777), which went right past out church. And Colonials were firing at the enemy from behind our tombstones."

Beyond its historical significance, however, Castor sees a county that offers a full and varied experience to both residents and visitors. He explains: "One of the great things about Montgomery County is [that] it's a microcosm of Pennsylvania. It has urban areas, you can visit Norristown and Pottstown and other boroughs like Rockledge and places like that. And it has suburban bedroom communities: Abington, Cheltenham, Whitemarsh, Springfield. And then it has areas - we call it ‘north of 202' - which is very rural. I live between the two branches of the Perkiomen Creek, and I can walk to the Perkiomen Trail. And those trails provide recreational opportunities that can be joined up with visits to historic sites."

How does Castor get away from it all? "One of my favorite things to do is on a weekend to take my ‘69 Corvette convertible, smoke my cigar, and drive around to our historic sites. It's just a wonderful thing when you go across Knight Road Bridge at Green Lane Park and you're right literally over the reservoir there. If I can, I stop and look both directions over the water, because it's a spectacular view."

Green Lane Park

Leslie Richards also cherishes her time out of doors and the ample opportunities that Montgomery County provides for that kind of leisure. "I love to walk our trails. I love to bike our trails. I'm very fortunate because I live right near the Schuylkill River Trail, as well as our Green Ribbon Trail. It's very easy for me to access both. I love being outside. So I do whatever I can do to be outside. That's why I love golf. Not because I'm skilled at it," she laughs, "but because it allows me to be outside for long periods of time. I'm also a big tennis player, and there are some really nice tennis facilities in the county."

Leslie Richards

Browsing and purchasing remain Montgomery County staples, Richards says, when hosting out-of-town visitors: "There is really high-quality shopping wherever you go, throughout the county. Whether you're going to small boutiques, which I tend to favor, or large outlets and the malls." She's also quick to point out the appeal the Valley Forge area as a family-friendly destination for her guests. "With kids, we head out to Oaks a lot. I've done the go-karting, the laser-tag. I'm very familiar with Arnold's. I've bounced in BounceU. I've climbed the rock walls as well. There's a full day's activities over there," she grins. Arnold's Family Fun Center

What surprises lie in store for first-timers venturing westward from Philadelphia? Richards first points to our emerging restaurant scene. "The quality of the food here is impressive," she says. "It's comparable to the menus offered in Center City, with much more convenience." She also mentions our jazz scene (August Moon in Norristown is a personal favorite) and the treasures available in our array of quirky and wonderful thrift stores, which she applauds for their efforts at upcycling and environmental friendliness.

Family fun is also high on the list of Josh Shapiro, given his role as parent: "I have four little kids," he says, referring to his 12-, 9-, 5- and 3-year old. "So my wife and I are always looking for an excursion that is going to occupy them, where they can be physical and do something fun. A typical weekend for us could be on one of our county trails or visiting one of our county parks. Just last weekend we went to the Lego Brick-fest at the Expo Center. We go skiing at Spring Mountain in the winter. And we love our boroughs and taking a walk through some of the shopping districts."

Josh Shapiro

Shapiro easily sees the travel effect and the role that a visit to Montgomery County can play in terms of personal betterment: "For those interested in coming to live or work in Montgomery County, visitors see the great quality of life. They see access to affordable housing; they see the parks and trails and cultural institutions. And they see a community where they can raise their family. They see a community where they can envision themselves getting older.

"For those who are just sort of the casual visitor, they come for a weekend, they see really quaint boroughs like Skippack Village, massive shopping meccas like the King of Prussia Mall, and they can go and rent a bike in Pottstown and bike all the way through Valley Forge. Just to name a few of the things that you can do.

King of Prussia Mall

"There's literally an activity every day, every weekend, and something for people to do at all times, that's fun and exciting, regardless of your age and they types of things that you like to do."

Shapiro finds Montgomery County full of surprises, especially given its diversity, blending urban vibe with rural peacefulness. "I live in Abington," he says, "on the eastern end of the county. I can recall saying to someone that I was on my way out to the 4-H festival for goat-milking. And the response was, ‘A 4-H festival?! What are you even talking about?' But a few minutes' drive in Montgomery County can put you in a whole different world. That diversity really attracts people who come here and want to visit."

For what it's worth, Shapiro won the goat-milking competition, crushing his competitors even though he had never done this particular farm chore before.

Shapiro is pleased that a grassroots effort to appreciate the local community is taking hold. "There are people," he says, "who aren't aware of all there is being offered in Montgomery County. And I think as they become more aware, they'll be much more interested and engaged. Look, families, seniors, whatever are always looking for something to do that's fun on a weekend. If they know that they can take advantage of these great county assets, they will - before they'll go somewhere else."

The Valley Forge Convention and Visitors Bureau is participating in its own celebration of National Travel and Tourism Week, using the national exposure as a platform to make a significant announcement about its position as the travel and tourism marketers for Montgomery County.

Feel free to join us at the Lord & Taylor court at the King of Prussia Mall on Friday, May 9, at 2 p.m.