Thorpe prepares for town visitorsCouncil, JTTA look at traffic control
As a tourist hotbed, Jim Thorpe borough often finds its population ballooning during certain times of year, particularly on the weekends.
Michael Rivkin, Jim Thorpe Tourism Agency acting president, said the town has reached a point where it almost markets itself.
For example, the total marketing budget for the recent three-weekend Fall Foliage Festival was a whopping $300, yet visitors increased dramatically.
While local officials embrace the draw, calling it one of the best problems you can have, it has also forced them to reanalyze needs such as crowd management and police services.
“We had numerous issues with traffic this October and we recognized the need to address it,” Rivkin said. “The fall festival itself has frankly grown beyond the management capabilities of a volunteer organization like JTTA. We are currently working to bring local organizations together, such as the Carbon Chamber and Economic Development and the Pocono Mountain Visitors Bureau. We must do a far better job of planning for these crowds.”
Original plans to focus on Flagger Force for traffic and pedestrian control were scrapped by the second weekend of the festival and Jim Thorpe’s police department handled the remainder of the event.
Jim Thorpe Police Chief Joe Schatz said the month of October served as a lesson learned for everyone.
“We won’t get caught with our pants down again,” he said. “It’s not just the fall festival. There are so many groups holding events here in Jim Thorpe and we’re going to be meeting with them far in advance.”
Olde Time Christmas, for example, is right around the corner, and Schatz said the department plans to have two officers downtown, one for crowd control and one at the corner helping pedestrians get from Josiah White Park across to the shops on Broadway.
“For a lot of years we have been telling groups yeah, you’re good, when it came to the police services contract,” Schatz said. “I know it’s expensive, but it’s about public safety.”
Mayor Michael Sofranko said while it’s important to evaluate how to handle visitors, borough officials want them to keep coming.
“We’re not anti-tourism in any way,” he said. “This is a great problem to have. We want Jim Thorpe to be a top destination for years to come.”
Emergency services accessibility to the downtown area is still a top concern for councilman Jay Miller, a longtime Jim Thorpe firefighter. Miller said he saw the streets in both the Heights and the east side of town fill up on October weekends as parking came at a premium.
“If we had to get an engine downtown we couldn’t have,” Miller said. “It’s turning into Disney World. It’s too big for the services our town has. Beyond police, we’re going to need the organizations running these events to get their folks trained on things like crowd control. That can help out a lot.”
During the fall festival, Rivkin said, the county parking lot as well as satellite locations at Sam Miller Field and Mauch Chunk Lake filled up quickly.
On the second weekend, he said, JTTA got 540 vehicles into the Mauch Chunk Lake lot, which had an original capacity of just 400.
“We’re all on same page and we’ll move forward with it,” Rivkin said. “We recognize we must all do a better job in accommodating our visitors and keeping our residents happy.”