Elissa Garofalo has been promoted to President and Executive Director of the Delaware & Lehigh National Heritage Corridor.
She becomes the fourth executive director to lead the D&L since its formation in 1988, replacing Allen Sachse, the organization's executive director for the past 12 years. Sachse will serve on half-time status with emphasis on legislative issues in Harrisburg and Washington D.C., as well as with strategic partnerships.
Fresh out of college with a Planning degree from Penn State, Garofalo was hired by the National Trust for Historic Preservation to serve as a Main Street Manager for Jim Thorpe. Working with Agnes McCartney, Bruce Conrad and many others, she helped develop the borough into a tourist destination. When the funding ended for the Main Street program, Garofalo opened the first outdoor retail store in Jim Thorpe.
Garofalo was an early advocate for preservation of the corridor between Philadelphia and Wilkes-Barre that brought anthracite to market and helped fuel the American Industrial Revolution. She joined the Delaware & Lehigh National Heritage Corridor Commission in January 2000 as a heritage development specialist.
In 2009, she became the organization's Vice President and began taking on increased managerial responsibilities. Garofalo is the author of a heritage guidebook of the corridor, The Stone Coal Way.
"This is a culmination of my personal and professional interests," Garofalo said. "They come together at the D&L. It's challenging but I've been doing a lot of the work over the last four years. I'm somewhat used to it, but now it is a somewhat larger responsibility."
The organization started in 1988 as the Delaware & Lehigh National Heritage Corridor Commission, a federal commission with a mission to develop a national heritage area and tell the story of anthracite transport from mine to market in Eastern Pennsylvania and to connect, revitalize and preserve the cultural, natural and historic resources along this corridor.
In 2007, with the commission's 20-year charter about to sunset, and with significant work yet to be done to complete its mission, the commission reorganized as a nonprofit organization, dropping "Commission" from its name, becoming the Delaware & Lehigh National Heritage Corridor.
Since its reorganization, it has continued to receive federal funding through the National Park Service, federal/state funding through the PennDOT-supervised Transportation Enhancement Program, state funding through the Pennsylvania Dept. of Conservation and Natural Resources, supplemented with grants from private foundations, and individual financial support through memberships and fundraising.
Garofalo takes the helm of an 11-member staff housed at three locations. The main office is at the Emrick Technology Center in Easton at Hugh Moore Park near the confluence of the Lehigh and Delaware Rivers. The other locations are the Anthracite regional office in Lehighton and the Southern area office in Bristol.
Since its inception, the D&L has been building a 165-mile long trail from Bristol to Wilkes-Barre, and is well on its way to completion. It has placed 99 percent of the right-of-way in public ownership and 80 percent of the trail is completed and open to the public.
In the last two years, the D&L, besides constructing 20 miles of trail, established an educational curriculum that is currently in 172 schools throughout the corridor.
"We have our interpretive system, Visually Speaking, which is the signage and wayside markers, and web site online mapping," Garofalo added.
"We are in the process of forming an alliance of the land owners throughout the region for shared services and support," she continued. "We hosted our first signature event, the marathon and half marathon. It drew 475 participants and raised money for the trail."
In the coming year, Garofalo plans to open an additional 18 miles of the D&L Trail. The highlights include a tunnel under a four-lane highway in BristolTownship, and a nine-mile trail link between Lehighton and Bowmanstown.
This section of the trail was part of an agreement that allowed access to contractors working on the construction of the new Pennsylvania Turnpike Lehigh River bridge crossing at Parryville in exchange for clearing and surfacing the trail after the old bridge is removed.
"It's a challenging time-the economy and changing political climate," Garofalo noted. "Our goal is to help our communities preserve their past and move into the future. We're the folks who work every day to try to make those connections.
"On a personal level, it's exciting," she said. "I look at this as breaking new ground, to sustain the organization, to sustain the mission, and to keep doing the good work."