NEW STANTON, Pa., (April 29, 2019) – Following a three-week soft opening, the Westmoreland County Visitor Information Center celebrated its official grand opening Monday, with a ribbon-cutting ceremony.
Located at 814 US 119 in New Stanton, the center was created through a cooperative effort by Westmoreland County Commissioners, Laurel Highlands Visitors Bureau (LHVB), and the Hepler family of New Stanton.
“We are very excited about the grand opening of the Westmoreland County Visitor Center,” said Commissioner Gina Cerilli. “Our county is filled with many great events, attractions, historical locations, fairs and festivals, wineries, breweries, and destination restaurants. We can’t wait to share all of the county’s hidden gems with our visitors.”
“I am very excited to see the visitor center open in the county,” said Commissioner Charles Anderson. “This center can be used by all groups to learn about the history of this area, for education, and to enjoy the great natural resources in Westmoreland County.”
“Westmoreland County has a great story to tell, and now we have a one-stop shop to tell it,” said Commissioner Ted Kopas. “Our new visitor’s center will showcase all of our county’s unique tourism assets to both visitors and residents.”
“The new visitor center not only enables Westmoreland County to showcase the county’s incredible tourism assets, but will also show connectivity to the Laurel Highlands region,” added Ann Nemanic, Executive Director, Laurel Highlands Visitors Bureau. “Our goal is to provide visitors with information during their time here, but more importantly, to plant the seed for a return visit. Ultimately, we want visitors to return for multiple-night stays because a day trip, or even a one-night stay, simply isn’t enough.”
Located between Stanton Daily Grind and Sib’s Sweet Shoppe, the Westmoreland County Visitor Information Center offers a beautiful welcoming experience to visitors with expansive maps, wayfinding signage, and stunning photography showcasing the county’s historic sites, famous neighbors, natural beauty, fun festivals, and local wineries and breweries. Displays within the visitor center include an antique handcart from Idlewild & Soak Zone, Fred Rogers memorabilia and more.
“Exhibits are in place to evoke conversation, like the large gas pump from the Pumps on Parade exhibit on loan from the Lincoln Highway Experience,” said Nemanic. “Exhibits will change seasonally as well. For example, Steelers Training Camp memorabilia during the summer to a holiday tree adorned for Overly’s Country Christmas will keep the space fresh for visitors and locals alike. The strategic location will also serve as an ideal meet and greet location for motorcoach and group tours entering the Laurel Highlands.”
Located a mile north of the Pennsylvania Turnpike and close to the I-66 interchange, the Westmoreland County Visitor Information Center isn’t the first tourism resource to call the location home. From the early 1960s through the 1980s, the site was home to the former Garden Center Restaurant, one of the area’s earliest known 24-hour diners. Owned and operated by Robert K. Hepler and Oren E. Hopkins, the restaurant claimed to be the “Gateway to the Laurel Highlands Information” and a hub for “Turnpike Information.”
“The idea was actually one generated by the owners of Hepler’s Hardware,” said Nemanic. “ Megan Orient-Hepler, who has an extensive background in tourism marketing, reached out to us to see if there was interest in opening and operating a Visitors Center at the strategic crossroads. Her vision led us to begin a dialogue with the Westmoreland County Commissioners in August 2018. Eight short months later, we are opening the doors to visitors and locals alike. This is truly a collaborative effort between the Laurel Highlands Visitors Bureau, our tourism partners in the county, and the county. The entire project, including staffing, comes from the Westmoreland County hotel occupancy tax.”
“A unique, local restaurant on the major highway between Pittsburgh and points east, the Garden Center was a major stopover for travelers,” said Megan Hepler-Orient, President, Hepler’s Town & Country Enterprises, Inc. “In rebuilding the Garden Center, our hopes were to emphasize unique local experiences and once again become a major destination for travelers in our region. Our family business is delighted to be selected as the first host site of an official Westmoreland County Visitor Information Center. It’s a bittersweet experience to see the site come back to life in a new and vibrant way. We look forward to welcoming visitors and introducing them to Westmoreland County and the Laurel Highlands.”
Since the soft opening on April 8, visitors to the center inquired about hiking and biking trails, special events such as Summer Sounds, and attractions including Frank Lloyd Wright’s Polymath Park. Many local residents have stopped by for ideas and suggestions on things to do with out-of-town guests.
The visitors center will be open 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesday-Sunday through the end of May. Beginning Memorial Day weekend, the center will be open 10 a.m.-6 p.m., seven days a week through the summer and into the fall.
About Pennsylvania’s Laurel Highlands
A magnificent mountainous region, the Laurel Highlands spans 3,000 square miles in southwestern Pennsylvania. Located an hour’s drive east of Pittsburgh, the beautiful four-season destination offers spectacular natural scenery, outstanding outdoor recreation, historic sites and attractions, family activities and world-class resorts. Notable destinations within the region include four architectural masterpieces by Frank Lloyd Wright – Fallingwater®, Kentuck Knob, Mäntylä and Duncan House – Nemacolin Woodlands Resort, Seven Springs Mountain Resort, Flight 93 National Memorial, Idlewild and Soak Zone, whitewater rafting at Ohiopyle State Park and more.
Located within 200 miles of the major metropolitan areas of Pittsburgh, Baltimore, Cleveland, and Washington D.C., the Laurel Highlands can be easily accessed from exits 67, 75, 91 and 110 of the Pennsylvania Turnpike.
Visitors to the Laurel Highlands can find information online at www.LaurelHighlands.org, calling 724.238.5661, www.facebook.com/laurelhighlandsPA and www.twitter.com/laurelhighlands. Established in 1958, the Laurel Highlands Visitors Bureau is the official destination marketing organization for Fayette, Somerset and Westmoreland counties in southwestern Pennsylvania.