Commonly known as Amish country, Holmes County is nestled in rural northeast Ohio between Columbus and Cleveland. But to many visitors, it seems a world away from big-city life.
The area is unlike any other part of the United States. Here visitors sample what country life in America might have been like 150 to 200 years ago. All this is courtesy of a remarkable religious sect, the Amish, about 17,000 gentle, peaceful, hard-working people who appear to be straight out of the 19th century but who live surrounded by modern society and technology.
Delegates to the 2017 Going On Faith Conference, the national gathering of religious travel planners, will get to experience a little of Amish culture August 22-24. The local tourism office encourages any travel planners still on the fence about going to sign up and be part of it.
“They should go especially if they have never been to Amish country,” said Laurie Judson of the Holmes County Chamber of Commerce and Tourism Bureau.
Unlike other Going On Faith Conferences that have been held in large convention centers in good-size cities, this meeting of religious travel planners and travel industry representatives will take place inside Grace Mennonite Church in the small rural city of Berlin, Ohio. The Mennonites are closely related to the Amish in their faith and beliefs.
When they arrive in the area, delegates will see some unusual sights. It is not uncommon to see an Amish farmer clearing his field with a horse and plow, or to spot an Amish family clip-clopping along a highway full of motorized traffic in a buggy pulled by a horse. And the group’s traditional clothing — plain pants, shirts, hats, dresses and bonnets — always stands out. In short, Amish country is a special place.
Five different hotels will serve the conference delegates. They are the Berlin Resort, Comfort Suites Berlin and the Berlin Grande Hotel and two popular mainstays of the region, Zinck’s Inn and Lodging on the Square.
The conference will be held in midweek this year. When they arrive, delegates are asked to register for the meeting at the Grace Mennonite Church, where they can network and begin to build new travel relationships. Then some of the fun begins.
“On that first afternoon, we are planning to hold an old-fashioned ice cream social outdoors at the Amish and Mennonite Heritage Center in Berlin,” said Judson. “It will be held next to a colorful, 296-foot-tall painted mural that depicts the story of the Amish and Mennonite people, basically depicting their very moving immigration stories.” There will also be some local entertainment as attendees enjoy their ice cream.
Following the official conference welcome and keynote address, everyone will be bused to the nearby town of Wilmot. Dinner will be served at the Amish Door, a restaurant, bakery, market, hotel and gift shop. The Amish Door offers traditional meat-and-potatoes cooking. Guests usually feast on specialties like roast beef or broasted chicken, as well as mashed potatoes, delectable vegetables, homemade bread and fresh pie. Several area convention and visitors bureaus will be in attendance, so delegates can obtain information should they want to bring a group back to the area.
The second night’s dinner and entertainment will take place at the Amish Country Theater, which presents comedic and family-friendly variety shows on a stage built to look like a barn.
“There will be an abbreviated show presented to give people an idea of what can be offered to groups,” said Judson. “The theater does a lot of audience participation.”
On the second afternoon of the conference, tours to nearby Owens, Wayne and Tuscarawas counties, all part of Amish country, will be offered. Some delegates to conferences like to come a day or two early or stay after it to go on FAM tours. They won’t be disappointed this year. Two pre-conference FAM tours have been arranged. The first is with Visit Canton, the CVB for the nearby Ohio city, and will cover the many benefits of visiting that city. The second is a more detailed tour of Amish country and will be provided by Dutchman’s Hospitality. The post-conference FAM tour is to Youngstown, Ohio, and will be sponsored by the Mahoning County CVB.
Also of note, the conference will feature an inspirational speaker with a remarkable story to tell. Award-winning author Rob Quillen from Omaha, Nebraska, will share his unusual encounter with a stranger the night before the tragic events of September 11, 2001. Quillen will challenge delegates to change their lives by first changing the lives of others; specifically, by making those people’s dreams come true.
Seasons of Fun
Each season offers something special in Amish country. Spring bursts forth, with flowers blooming and “new” green appearing everywhere. Baby animals are born on the many Amish farms dotting the countryside. People enjoy visiting them in special back roads tours.
Summer is a busy time on the farm, and there is much work to be done. Tourists can see some of the traditional methods still being used today. Fall is by far the busiest tourism season in the region, with fall harvests, Oktoberfest celebrations, Halloween fun and other special events taking place.
Winter may be a colder time, but the Amish offer sleigh rides, visits to barns where animals are wintering, tours of cheesemaking and chocolate-making shops and a glimpse of the world-famous quilt making and furniture building that have been traditions in the region for decades.
Judson said delegates will experience a change of scenery and a much slower, more peaceful lifestyle in Amish country. After the day’s conference work ends, the fun begins.
“We are going to give them a jam-packed three days of touching, tasting and seeing wonderful Amish country,” he said. “I think it will be a lot of fun for everybody.”
For more information on the Going On Faith Conference or to register go to www.gofconference.com