Ligonier. Photo by Brian Hyslop.

A few months ago, we listed Ligonier as one of our favorite distinctive, unusual small towns of Western PA to visit — not just because of Idlewild, its renowned amusement park, and historic Fort Ligonier — but because it sets a standard for a walkable, historic, picturesque community that keeps improving itself.

We weren’t alone in this observation. Now, Scenic Pittsburgh — which helps promote beautification efforts like fighting billboard encroachment and restoring green spaces — is giving Ligonier a Regional Scenic Beauty Award.

“Ligonier catches the eye of travelers because of its ‘Hallmark Card’ appearance, and once they stop, people find they enjoy our small-town charm,” says Ligonier Borough Mayor Ormond “Butch” Bellas.

Ligonier recently completed a multimillion-dollar upgrade of its 200-year-old Diamond Park, around which its thriving core of local businesses is arranged.

Scenic Pittsburgh will present the award to Ligonier on Nov. 6 at 12:30 p.m. during the Fall into Ligonier restaurant tasting event. The public is invited to attend the award ceremony, which will take place in the bandstand at the Diamond.

This award is given to a southwestern Pennsylvania community that has demonstrated “a consistent, long-term and visionary commitment to protecting and promoting their scenic resources.”

Photo of Ligonier by Brian Hyslop.

“Our theme is that beauty is good for business,” says Scenic Pittsburgh’s Executive Director Michael Dawida, a former state senator and Allegheny County Commissioner. “The steel industry once provided all our jobs, but it wasn’t very lovely. The new jobs can go anywhere they want … Most industries of today do prefer going to someplace nice, someplace lovely. We try to protect communities; we try to help them get there.”

It’s an issue that cuts across partisan lines — which is exceedingly rare.

“We’re probably one of the few issues that Republicans and Democrats agree on,” notes Dawida.

Scenic Pittsburgh began 11 years ago with the support of local foundations, mainly to fight billboard proliferation. The organization has been battling the Mt. Washington billboard — and efforts to make it electronic — for a long time. But more recently,  it has tried to make a more positive case.

“We’re trying to be a pro-beauty, not just anti-billboard,” says Dawida.

The awards are a chance to honor communities, places and even companies that promote beautiful places in Western PA. Anyone can nominate a place for an award through Scenic Pittsburgh’s website.

This will be the second award Scenic Pittsburgh has given out in 2021. The first was on Sept. 23 at a ceremony at The Highline on Pittsburgh’s South Side, when it presented the Scenic Achievement award to Indovina Associates Architects.

The awards are made by glass artist William Haynes, who has created a wrought iron stand with green and blue glass in a mountain and river pattern, designed to evoke the landscape of the region, and two of its historic industries, glass and steel.

The Highline (formerly known as the Terminal Buildings) on the South Side. Photo courtesy of McKnight Realty Partners.

Scenic Pittsburgh is an affiliate of Scenic America, which was started by former First Lady Lady Bird Johnson, who wanted to plant flowers all over Texas.

The first winner, in 2019, was Connellsville, which Dawida described as once a “beat-up old coal town” that has done the hard work of protecting and restoring its old buildings and making itself into an inviting stop on the Great Allegheny Passage bike trail.

“When we gave the mayor of Connellsville an award, he went pub crawling in Connellsville and took our award with him and showed it off to everyone in town,” says Dawida.

Michael Machosky is a writer and journalist with 18 years of experience writing about everything from development news, food and film to art, travel, books and music. He lives in Greenfield with his wife, Shaunna, and 10-year old son.