Green Lancaster header displaying a picture of an Amish buggy, and corn field, horses in a field, cows being milked, and windmills.





Lancaster County Planning Commission

Keeping Nature in Mind

What is Ecotourism

The Lancaster County Planning Commission Comprehensive Plan

Strategic Tourism Development Element

Goals of the Plan

Economic Impact of Tourism

History of Tourism in Lancaster County

Ecotourism Projects:

Susquehanna River Water Trail

Other Popular Destinations

Northwest River Trail

Help the Community



Tourism is an important industry for any community to prosper. Not only does it bring outsiders in to experience all the unique and popular attractions around the area, but it can also be educational, economically beneficial, and healthy too! Sometimes the most natural of places can be the most interesting.

With the go-green movement becoming more prevalent, especially in Lancaster County, more ecofriendly attractions are popping up all over. Since Lancaster and the surrounding counties have such rich and diverse heritage there are plenty of historical places to visit, beautiful trails to walk or ride, and activities to enjoy along the Susquehanna River. The challenge is to preserve the natural beauty and history of the area while making it appealing to visitors and residents of Lancaster County so that people keep an interest in the area and continue to visit. All of these outdoor activities and experiences provided by a community can be defined as ecotourism (Michael Domin, Principal Planner, Lancaster County Planning Commission, personal communication, Nov. 15, 2011).


As defined by The International Ecotourism Society, ecotourism is “responsible travel-to natural areas that conserves the environment and improves the well-being of local people” (TIES, 1990). Ecotourism serves several purposes and benefits a community in many ways. It is all about conserving and promoting what the area already has to offer and sustaining these areas for future generations so that the historical and cultural aspects of the community remain for years to come.

People participate in ecofriendly activities for several reasons:

-minimize impact

-build environmental and cultural awareness and respect

-provide positive experiences for visitors and hosts

-provide direct financial benefits for conservation

-provide financial benefits and empowerment for local people

-raise sensitivity to host countries’ political, environmental, and social climate

(TIES, 1990) 

There are many places in Lancaster County that promote ecotourism that are economically, culturally, and environmentally beneficial to the community. There are several organizations which contribute to the creation, maintenance, and funding of these places, one of them being the Lancaster County Planning Commission.


The Lancaster County Planning Commission has created a Comprehensive Plan that contains three main parts illustrating the changes that the Planning Commission hopes to bring to the County to better the life of the residents. This plan, also called Envision, is a guide used to inspire its audiences to create an ecofriendly environment for Lancaster County by working to preserve the land and sustain the heritage of the community.

The first part of the plan is the Policy Plan which contains several key issues of the community that locals have voiced their concern about, and also identifies the ultimate vision and goals of the plan.

The second part, the Growth Management Element, identifies places within the County that should be maintained as well as the tools needed to utilize these areas as effectively as possible.

The third section of the plan, the Functional Elements, states specific areas of concern including housing, cultural resources, open space, and transportation. The Strategic Tourism Development Element further details the county’s plan to create attractions that are ecologically friendly and economically beneficial to the community. (LCPC, 2010)

To learn more about the Lancaster County Planning Commission and their comprehensive plan, you can visit their website:


According to the Lancaster County Planning Commission website, the Strategic Tourism Development Element is focused on increasing the benefits that tourism provides by urging investors to build on the already existing commitment to tourism and tourism products as well as work to create new tourism products.

It is important that these products are authentic and appeal to visitors while at the same time enhancing the lives of the residents. Lancaster County has always been a popular tourist destination and to remain as such it requires constant effort and support from the community and government, proper funding, and strong leadership from those who understand the importance of marketing these attractions as well as maintaining them (LCPC, 2010).

In August 2003, a twelve member task force was established to create a Strategic Tourism Development Plan that would be included in the Lancaster County Comprehensive Plan. The group worked with several professionals to guide the planning process (LCPC, 2005).


The Strategic Tourism Development Planning Process was based on four guiding principles:

The first principle, Stakeholder Involvement, has been a long-standing tradition in Lancaster County tourism. This strategy basically states that the public should always be connected to and informed of the county’s planning efforts.

The second principle is Sustainability which strives to conserve and protect the natural, cultural, and historical resources Lancaster County has to offer.

The third principle is Integration of Supporting Studies and Reports which uses past plans, reports, and studies to influence new plans instead of completely starting from scratch.

The fourth principle is Achievable Recommendations which makes certain that goals are achievable and tangible while also making sure the plans are direct and concise.

The plan then gives several recommendations or strategies to follow to promote Lancaster County as a strong tourist destination and create an eco-friendly environment all over the county:

The first recommendation is Product Development. The product development strategy is meant to build on Lancaster’s strength as a tourism destination. The goals within this strategy include protecting, preserving, and enhancing Lancaster’s “sense of place” so that this is set as a foundation for future tourism projects, focus on areas that have the greatest potential for tourism development, including the City of Lancaster as a welcoming and intriguing tourism product for the County.

The second recommendation is the Infrastructure and Mobility Strategy. This strategy simply involves making transportation easy for the visitor by improving visitor mobility and access and increasing the overall quality of the visitor experience.

The third recommendation, The Marketing Strategy, puts a focus on brand equity, continuity, and packaging. The purpose of this strategy is to build on the existing brand awareness and equity of Lancaster County, enhance the existing strategies and create new marketing initiatives, with a strong focus on overnight visitors as they are the biggest contributors to the County’s economic success.

The fourth recommendation is the Outreach and Public Involvement Strategy. This strategy was put in place to educate and involve the community on any developing tourism projects or promotions. This involves increasing the recognition of tourism’s importance to a community’s economic status as well as the overall quality of life in Lancaster County and involving the community in the planning process.

The fifth recommendation is the Organizational/Collaborative Strategy. The purpose of this strategy is to “keep it simple”, focus on leadership, identify resources, and collaborate for success. To do this, a Tourism Development Organization will be created that will take charge in fulfilling the Lancaster County Strategic Tourism Development Plan.
(LCPC, 2005)


The Tourism industry can be a great boost for the economic health of any community, and Lancaster County has a strong competitive edge in this area. The tourism industry in Lancaster County is composed of several factors that together are called a cluster.

A cluster is composed of several layers of industries and institutions.

The most visible layer of the cluster contains industries that provide goods and services directly to the people. These are known as first-tier industries.

These industries include:
-Entertainment venues
-Performing arts organizations

Second-tier industries are industries that provide goods and services to the first-tier industries.

These industries include:
-Real estate services
-Food manufacturers and suppliers
-Suppliers of gas and other utilities

The percentage of tourism expenses for first-tier industries varies for different locations. For example, in Lancaster County, food and retail are the highest grossing industries. The clusters also include a number of government and non-profit agencies. They become involved in various activities such as promoting tourism, training employees, and carrying out local government licensing, planning, and regulating functions. The Lancaster County Planning Commission falls in to this category.

The most accurate way to examine the importance of tourism in Lancaster County is to look the total number of visits and where these people went. On average, a visitor spends about three days in Lancaster County. In 2001, it was estimated that there were over 4 million overnight visits and over 4.3 million day trip visits. (LCPC, 2005)

With new tourist destinations being established and enhanced all the time, these numbers are sure to grow.


Tourism has been an integral part of Lancaster for decades. Since Lancaster is considered a driving destination, the invention of the automobile greatly increased tourism in the county. The Amish community has always been a big contributor to tourism since many people are drawn to their furniture, quilts, crafts, and foods, along with a sense of curiosity and fascination with their lifestyle.

1940s- Many tours were given around the rural areas of the county which showcased the Pennsylvania Dutch culture.
1946- As tourism grew, a visitor’s center was eventually established
1955- The musical “Plain and Fancy” put Lancaster on the map as a popular destination
1957- Lancaster’s official tourism office was formed to help further enrich and develop the tourism industry in the county. Eventually the name was changed to Pennsylvania Dutch Tourist Bureau
1970s- Lancaster was deemed one of the most popular tourist destinations in the country
1984- National Geographic Magazine published an article displaying many captivating photos which renewed an interest in the area for many readers
1985- The movie “Witness”, starring Harrison Ford and Kelly McGillis, was shot in the Strasburg area, subsequently resulting in an increase in visitors coming to see the area where film was shot
1991- The Lancaster County Planning Commission created the Lancaster County Heritage Program which helped to focus the tourism industry on the natural, cultural, and historical heritage of Lancaster County (Michael Domin, personal communication, Nov.15, 2011)

In 2010, the census for Lancaster County was 519,445. It is estimated that in 2011 the census has grown to over 521,000. This positive growth rate is an indicator that the attributes of Lancaster County are attractive (Cowhey, 2011).

Some may worry that this growth may mean more congestion and pollution for the county, but in fact this leads to smarter land use and infrastructure provision. Growth rate can definitely have a negative impact on a community, but there are steps we can take to lessen these impacts and preserve the qualities of Lancaster. “To do this, we need to plan the location of development, provide the infrastructure to support communities, and conserve the features that make Lancaster County special” (Cowhey, p. 1, 2011).


Susquehanna River Water Trail


The Lancaster County Planning Commission has spearheaded many projects in Lancaster County that promote ecotourism. One of the most notable project is the creation of the Susquehanna River Water Trail, a 52-mile water trail that runs from Harrisburg to the Broad Creek boat access that lies south of the Mason-Dixon Line. The LCPC developed and printed the first Susquehanna River Water Trail Map and Guide. The LCPC works closely with the Susquehanna Gateway Heritage Area and has since turned the project over to them but continues to work with them on ways to promote and improve the corridor.

This project involved a series of 21 wayside interpretive panels that helped inform visitors of all the historical, natural, and cultural resources the Susquehanna River has to offer (Michael Domin, personal communication, November 15, 2011). Fishing, boating, and kayaking are popular activities associated with the trail, but if those activities aren’t for you, there are plenty of museums and historical sites for those who love to sight-see.

Just to name a few:

The Columbia Market House- one of the oldest Market Houses in Pennsylvania. Built in 1869, the Market House was furnished with 180 stalls on the inside and 37 on the outside. One special feature of the Market House is the Dungeon which was used as storage space for farmers but eventually turned in to a prison used to lock up criminals. Today you can find a large selection of fresh produce, meats, cheeses, baked goods, candy, and crafts.

The Civil War Bridge Piers, Wrightsville, PA- another historical site along the river. There are remains from the original bridge that connected York and Lancaster Counties in the 1800s just north of the current Route 462 Bridge. This bridge was able to accommodate foot, railroad, and vehicle traffic. During the Civil War the residents of York County burnt down the bridge when the Confederate Soldiers tried to cross.

The First National Bank Museum, Columbia, PA- another interesting stop. This bank is the only known bank in the U.S. that is still preserved in its original setting. The building served several different purposes over the centuries. It served as a hotel, bank, tavern, and even a library. In 1958 it was restored to its banking form and is now available for tours, private parties, and meetings.

Cooper’s Shed Museum- yet another popular attraction. Located at Bube’s Brewery, it serves as a homebrewing store for the brewery. The store is still in the original cooperage of the brewery and a large collection of the antique cooper’s tools are on display. There is even a barrel producing area where the tools are used today.


There are plenty of other historical sites, museums, and cultural experiences that are easy to find and fun for all ages. Check out their website for more information,

Other Popular Destinations

The LCPC also works closely with the Lancaster County Conservancy to help preserve natural areas along the river corridor and elsewhere in the County. These areas are open to the public and people travel from far distances just to visit these areas.

Tucquan Glenn- one of the most popular destinations in Lancaster County. Located in Martic Township, this 338 acre nature preserve contains a tributary to the Susquehanna River. People can find trails that follow a stream straight to the river.

Fishing Creek- another popular nature reserve that begins in Providence Township. It is designated by the State as a high-quality cold water fishery and one of the only natural wild trout populations left in Lancaster County. There are trails that also run through various sections of the preserve.

Welsh Mountain Nature Preserve- this nature preserve along with Money Rocks County Park will be one of the largest continuous pieces of protected forest land in the county. This preserve also protects the water and air quality making it a top spot for both natural resource protection and public recreation.  


Learn more about these destinations at

Northwest River Trail


A major developing project that the LCPC is working on is the Northwest River Trail. There is a lot of planning and preparation for this project as with any other major project. It is time consuming and costly and it is important that we realize all of the different aspects that go in to planning a project like this.

What is it?

The Northwest River Trail is a proposed 14 mile-long trail that runs alongside of the Susquehanna River. The trail runs through five municipalities in the northwestern edge of Lancaster County. The trail will start in River Park in Columbia Borough and run to the Fish & Boat Commission access in Falmouth in Conoy Township, close to the Dauphin County line (LCPC, 2011).

LCPC is working closely with the five municipalities involved, the County Parks Department, the Lancaster County Solid Waste Management Authority, and as previously mentioned, the Susquehanna Gateway Heritage Area on this project. Acting as a coordinator for the project, the LCPC organizes meetings between the project partners and helps keep the communication lines open between each of the sections so planning continues to progress smoothly (Michael Domin, personal communication, October 27, 2011).

This project has been in the works for many years, but it takes time to acquire all the land from private owners along the river, and at first it seemed as if the completion of a seamless 14 mile trail was very unlikely. About twenty years ago, the municipalities involved in the plan began acquiring the land needed along the river with funding support from the County and State Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, and hope was renewed for the trail. In 2002, a Master Plan was created to help guide the construction of the trail. Since that time, the partners of the project have worked hard to obtain more grants and implement the plan for the trail. (Michael Domin, personal communication, October 27, 2011)

At this time, the estimated finish date for the trail is 2014. Currently, the trail is 12.5 miles long and open to the public. The majority of the trail is used for hiking or running since most of the trail is still underdeveloped. Equestrian use is not permitted on some sections of the trail seeing as the trail follows so closely to the Pennsylvania Mainline Canal, and the train whistles could spook the horses when they go by. Pets are permitted as long as they are on leashes, so many choose to walk their dogs along the trail. This trail is not aimed to destroy any of the wildlife already established along the river corridor, so trail designers must avoid certain plant species and try to utilize previously developed paths. (Michael Domin, personal communication, October 27, 2011)

The most developed section of the trail is a 3.5 mile section starting at Decatur Street in Marietta and ending at the Shocks Mill railroad bridge in Conoy Township. This eight to ten foot-wide paved trail passes through beautiful woodlands and open corn fields. This section was the first to open in East Donegal Township in 2009. The section of the proposed trail that runs through Marietta just east of Decatur St. is still being developed. Officials hope to bring some of the trail onto Front Street so that visitors can experience the restaurants, taverns, and historic homes of Marietta. Borough Council President Miriam Fletcher refers to the trail as an economic engine. (Crable, 2009)

charlesgreenway bridgeontrail

Activities and Benefits

Trails are a great way to experience nature at its finest, and this trail is popular for more than just its good looks. Not only does it promote exercise and outdoor activities in a safe, family-friendly environment, it provides an alternative route of transportation between towns. This alleviates pollution, parking, and congestion problems since no motorized vehicles such as bikes or scooters are permitted on the trail unless a warrant is obtained for those with disabilities who depend on electric scooters or other modes of transportation to get around.

This trail will also be a simple way for bikers searching for food, lodging, or rentals to experience historic towns such as Columbia, Marietta, and Bainbridge. This will provide an economic boost for these communities. (Michael Domin, personal communication, October 27, 2011)

At this time there are no camping sites along the trail, however, there are multiple small parks along the way that people can stop by and picnic, boat, or fish. There are parks located in Columbia, Chickies Rock, Marietta, Bainbridge, and Falmouth. A special event was held at the trail in August 2011. The event was called the Chiques Challenge which involved running and kayaking. (Michael Domin, personal communication, October 27, 2011)

Many people might ask how a paved trail through the woods and along the river is ecofriendly. While most municipalities would opt for a crushed stone path, since the trail is so close to the river’s edge, flooding is often a problem. With a crushed stone path, the erosion of the path becomes a big problem, so pavement was chosen as the surface for the trail which will ultimately be less costly and less maintenance in the long run. For instance the few hurricanes Lancaster experienced this summer left sections of the trail under 20 feet of water. When the water receded, the trail remained in fairly decent shape with little repair needed. (Michael Domin, personal communication, October 27, 2011)


Connecting the Trail

Areas of concern include connecting the disjointed sections of the trails to create a flowing 14 mile trail.

One of the biggest problems right now is how to connect Chickies Rock County Park to Columbia Boroughs Riverpark which is approximately one mile long. Columbia’s Riverpark is designated the Southern Trailhead of the trail. The advantages to having the trail start at Riverpark are that the thousands of bikers who come to ride the trail will be searching for food, lodging, and rentals.

In between these two parks is the Norfolk Southern railroad yard. The only way to connect to the parks is to create a path directly across the railroad yard. This creates a liability issue having pedestrians come so close to the active railroad lines. However, The LCPC and Norfolk Southern are working on a compromise so the path can eventually connect. (Michael Domin, personal communication, October 27, 2011)

Another problem area is the Shocks Mill Underpass. Towards the northern end of the trail in Conoy Township there is a railroad bridge that crosses the Susquehanna and links York and Lancaster County. This bridge is an obstacle that could prevent the trail from being one continuous path if no solution is found. The proposed plan is to build an underpass that goes through one of the railroad abutments. This is a costly maneuver, however, ranging from 600-800 thousand dollars. A good portion of this funding has already been obtained and designs for the underpass are currently being developed. (Michael Domin, personal communication, October 27, 2011)

Keeping it Clean: Maintenance of the Trail

A large part of tourism is making sure that visitors and residents of the area feel safe in the activities they choose to do. The Northwest River Trail provides this safety. To this day, there have been no security issues with the trail. Some of the areas that were once used as dumping spots are now experiencing much less activity since the establishment of the trail.

Much less illegal activity will occur when more people look out for the well-being of the trail. The same goes for sanitary issues. For instance restrooms are to be constructed at the proposed Trail Services Building at Columbia Riverpark and currently there are port-a-potties at the northern trailhead in Conoy Township. (Michael Domin, personal communication, October 27, 2011)

The maintenance and upkeep of the trail is divided among each of the municipalities that own that section of the trail. Some municipalities have signed agreements with volunteer groups that look after the trail on a regular basis. For instance, in Marietta, The Ministerium has agreed to help look after the trail. (Michael Domin, October 27, 2011)

Since the communities involved in this project are not wealthy, they will surely struggle to maintain the trail once it is completed.

What you can do

There are many things you can do to help clean up the trail. These include simple things such as:

-picking up trash
-cleaning the trail surface
-cutting fallen trees
-monitoring the security of the trail

To get more information on how you can help, contact your home municipality and continue to keep the trails clean and beautiful. (Michael Domin, personal communication, October 27, 2011)

northwestrivertrail northwestrivertrail


Lancaster County has been coined the “Garden Spot of America” since much of the land use is reserved for farming and agriculture. The beautiful farmlands and scenic countryside are not the only attractions in Lancaster County. Many of the surrounding towns and picturesque villages of Lancaster County house historical buildings and outdoor recreation areas which attract millions of visitors every year, thus creating billions of dollars in revenue for the county (LCPC, 2005). It is easy to see why tourism is so important to the economic well-being of Lancaster. In order for tourism to increase and environmental damage to decrease, full attention must be paid to the strategies being implemented to keep Lancaster clean, safe, and appealing.

The plan is clear: “If you want to create a great place to visit, you must first create a great place to live” (LCPC, p.12, 2005)

As with any ecotourism project, the main vision and challenge is to create and preserve the historic and cultural value of sites within a community, promote health and wellness, create an experience that will enhance the quality of life for the area’s residents, and improve the economic health of the County as a whole. Lancaster County prides itself on its rich heritage and in order to keep these popular and historic destinations sustained for future generations, it starts with small efforts from the people of the community.

So grab your friends and family, grab your walking shoes or grab your bike, and get outside. Come visit Lancaster County- see all there is to see!

*All photos were taken by Emily Manwiller

















This site was created by Emily Manwiller at Millersville University of Pennsylvania

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