“Sometimes there’s a treasure right next door–and you don’t even know it until somebody tells you. That’s our Amish Trail,” said Deb Opferbeck at Cattaraugus County Tourism. “Some people came to ski and fish for years, but they never knew what a treasure our own Amish Country was until we put it on our website.”
The Amish Trail, which extends into Chautauqua County in the Cherry Creek area, attracts tourists from as far away as California and Australia. It has boosted business for countless local shops, restaurants, museums and attractions. “People all around the world are fascinated by the Amish and their gentler, old fashioned way of life,” Opferbeck said. “Just Google ‘Amish Trail’ and the top 10 sites bring you right here to our doorstep.”
“What a stunning setting…What a gem! Visitors really feel as though they are in a different era …” boasted Roger Brooks of Destination Development in Seattle Washington when he visited the area to help boost local tourism.
The Amish folk are worth getting to know; they truly live their beliefs. Modern conveniences, they say, take more work, worry and upkeep than they are worth; a life closer to God’s creation is a life of peace. They live closer to their real values…family, relationships, enjoyment of the simple gifts of hand crafted homes and hand tended crops. “They don’t enjoy being gawked at,” Opferbeck said, “but they love to show their work and kindness and to visitors who truly respect them, their integrity and their fine workmanship.”
The Amish, now nearly 250,000 strong across the United States, came from the German speaking parts of Europe in the 18th Century and still speak local dialects of their old tongue among themselves. They name anyone who is not Amish, “English,” even Hispanic Americans, second generation Czechoslovakians and visitors from Italy.
A Cattaraugus County innkeeper recently received an on-line registration from an Italian couple from Como, northern Italy, who wanted to experience real “Americana” while visiting family in Toronto, Canada. They came to see the Amish. They also discovered the local “English,” their businesses, restaurants and more, while here.
“Before leaving,” the innkeeper said, “they invited me to visit them at their home on Lake Como when I visit the Northern Italian Lake District with my Syracuse University Alumni Group. It’s a small world radiating from our local Amish community.”
During the first week of January 2012, another “English” family reported hosting a family of four from Sydney, Australia who selected the area for the Amish proximity as well as for skiing, nearness to Niagara Falls, and accessibility to Native American sites.
“Since we inaugurated the Amish Trail about three years ago,” Opferbeck said, “hits on our website are probably four times what they used to be. Even homespun local attractions have experienced a tremendous boost. The beautiful Leon Historical Society, for example, used to see 100 visitors a year. In a few short years that has jumped to more than 600.”
The Amish Trail, quite simply, brings new money to the region’s towns, villages and businesses. Tourists bring wealth and a willingness to spend. The Amish aren’t the only people selling their quality goods and services, according to Opferbeck. Foot traffic through downtown Randolph, for instance, now supports new eating establishments and shops and hosts guests from across the country and around the globe.
Twenty-first Century technology enjoys a happy marriage with the Old World Amish too. Geocaching is a new and highly popular pastime around the world; it is somewhere between a sport and an outdoor adventure. Enthusiasts find clews in the form of GPS coordinates to locate hidden, even buried, treasures called geocaches in the woods, the wilderness or even in bustling, downtown city districts. It is often called “a real-world outdoor treasure hunting game that can take you across the country and around the world.”
An enthusiastic band of local volunteer geocachers, under the direction of “Master Cacher” Dora Mall, in cooperation with Economic Development, Planning and Tourism and the Real Property Department, have created the New York Amish Geotrail (NYAGT), already world renowned for its stunning pastoral views in every direction along the highways and byways of the Enchanted Mountains.
There are a total of 12 caches along New York’s Amish Trail and each one has a corresponding keyword. These geocaches together form the New York Amish Geotrail (NYAGT). Successful collection of 10 caches will entitle the cacher to a special commemorative New York’s Amish GeoCoin. “Some of our NYAGT pieces have already been discovered relocated to European trails,” Opferback said.
During a recent visit by a California couple, they told the county Tourism Office, “We were really sold when we discovered a set of geocaches located at interesting sites and businesses throughout the county. With so much to do, we rearranged our schedule slightly so we would be able to spend more time in the area without being rushed.”
The couple was delighted by finding local goods and crafts like the peanut-butter goat milk fudge, cutting boards, potholders, table runners, and even a wooden basket in the shape of a boat that folds flat when you rotate its handle. “This made for easy packing for the trip home,” they said. “‘Handmade’ takes on a new meaning when you get to meet the people who made these items, and the craftsmanship is indeed exquisite.”
The Amish Trail hosts two special events every year. In October, take the spectacular “Fall Along the Amish Trail” drive through the forest colors and country sides and in Spring visit the Amish Trail for a “Sneak Peek” of the coming, lush green of the Amish farms and rural New York State. Custom tours can also be arranged for quilters, woodworking enthusiasts, diners and much more.
A complete map of the Amish Trail, with four touring loops heading out toward communities in the four directions of the compass, labeled the Blue, Green, Orange and Pink Loop, is available at amishtrail.com. On the Amish Trail Home Page, simply click on the image that says “Request, View or Download: Amish Trail Brochure and Map.”