Appreciate (And Explore) Your Own Backyard

By Nina Cipriani

Imagine having extreme difficulty carrying out the simplest social interactions. The inability to raise a hand in class, the absolute dread of telling the server that the order is wrong, or pulling up to a drive-thru window and being frozen with fear and anxiety. This was my reality for many years. I would never really leave the house, hang out with friends, or travel outside my hometown of Altoona, Pennsylvania. But even then, the streets of my city were strangers to me.

I was quite shy and introverted throughout high school and my first year of college. I struggled to start conversations with people, and I often stayed in my bedroom. But as my freshman and sophomore years in college came and went, I “grew out of my shell” and was much more interactive with classmates and peers. Part of what helped so tremendously was being on the college newspaper staff.

Fast forwarding to the end of my junior year, I have now been the editor-in-chief of the student-run newspaper for over a year, and I only have one year of college left. When it was time to apply for a summer internship, my dad recommended Explore Altoona, which is Blair County’s destination marketing organization. He has worked closely with the staff of the organization and felt it would be a great fit for me.

I was hesitant at first, because my major is journalism, and it would be a marketing and communication internship. But I knew that it would broaden my portfolio and provide real-world, professional work environment experience.

Becoming the marketing and communication intern for Explore Altoona is one of the best opportunities I have ever had. I am elated to have had the opportunity to write a wide array of features on my community and visit attractions that I have never been to.

I have written over a dozen blogs for the new Explore Altoona website, which have assisted in improving my writing skills, outside of just news-oriented writing. I have broadened my photography skills by taking pictures of Blair County for my blogs. And I worked with Daisy and Tim from KDKA during a commercial shoot for Explore Altoona. Having firsthand experience with broadcast journalism professionals is something I never thought I would have under my belt so early in my journalism career.

Daisy and Tim from KDKA at Fort Roberdeau in Altoona, Pennsylvania for the Explore Altoona commercial shoot.

Before, I did not know much about Explore Altoona or what Blair County truly has to offer. But through this internship, not only am I educating visitors but also educating myself about the endless opportunities of Altoona and Greater Blair County alike.

The greatest opportunity I have had so far is visiting the Blair Limestone Company Kilns in Canoe Creek State Park. The entire experience was like nothing I have ever witnessed before. I had only ever been to Canoe Creek once very briefly years ago. I went to the Limestone Kilns to take photos for a blog that I was writing.

I drove all over the area trying to find signs for the Kilns. Suddenly, in the corner of a parking lot by the beach area, I found a wooden sign with red lettering that read, “Limestone,” with an arrow. I leaped out of my car and began on the trail. Even the trail to the Limestone Kilns was a terrific sight to see. Within the first few minutes, I passed beautiful greenery, with the bright sun peeking through the leaves and branches. A few more feet and I approached a water fountain for visitors. In the distance, I could see a theatre-like seating area, with rows of benches and a stage in the front.

The dirt trail stops, but I assumed that I should keep going in that direction. I continued straight on the path, which was now a grass trail surrounded by tall grass, or something of the sort. This path led to another dirt trail; this time being shielded by trees. After walking over a bridge and walking along more of the dirt trail, the castle-like structure of the Kilns grew closer and closer. Even from the distance, they were beautiful. Once I was only about 50 feet away from them, it was like I walked into a movie scene. The sun was beaming through the trees, and everything was so well lit like there was a spotlight right on the Kilns.

A wide shot of the Blair Limestone Company Kilns at Canoe Creek State Park in Hollidaysburg, Pennsylvania.

I took a few wide-angle pictures and then walked closer. The inside of the structure was even more breathtaking, and I had to capture it. Looking up through the Kiln to see the vibrant green trees and the bright blue sky, was like a dream. These Kilns must be one of the most beautiful things I have ever seen.

Looking up through the Limestone Kiln toward the sky.

After traveling to a variety of indoor and outdoor locations, like the Blair Limestone Company Kilns, DelGrosso’s Amusement Park, and Gardners Candies Factory in Tyrone, I have experienced more of Blair County than I ever thought I would have.

Gardners Candies’ Peanut Bark cooling in the Gardners Candies Factory in Tyrone, Pennsylvania.

People often take the sites around them for granted. Sometimes it is difficult to perceive my town as somewhere to travel to or to explore. But if you are looking for a getaway or vacation, you do not need to go as far away as possible from home. Some of the most unique, fun experiences are in your own backyard.

I am eternally grateful to have had the opportunity to travel around Blair County and build my portfolio at the same time. With about a month left of the internship, I’m excited to see what else I will do. The streets of Blair County are no longer strangers, but close friends.

Your visitor's guide is waiting for you!

Sign up for updates from Explore Altoona, and request a visitor’s guide to receive valuable information and travel tips for your upcoming trip to Altoona and Blair County!