Why I Love the Lehigh Valley

Photo by Mark Iampietro

People still look at me funny when I tell them Rodale is headquartered in the Lehigh Valley. Sometimes I’ll say Emmaus, sometimes Allentown or Bethlehem. But unless they are longtime organic gardeners or farmers, in which case Emmaus (the birthplace of the organic movement in America) and Maxatawny (home of the Rodale Institute) are considered Mecca, most people are not familiar with our little valley. (Unless they already live here, of course.) Sometimes I’m just fine with that because, after all, one of its charms is that it’s not crowded, overpriced, or filled with trend seekers just passing through. Other times, such as when I am hiring people, I wish it were a little more trendy. But the truth is, our lack of trendiness kind of filters out the superficial job seekers and helps me find the authentic people who truly fit our culture.

What’s not to love about this place? First, it’s filled with fresh air and nature and lots of places to enjoy it—such as the Allentown Parkway, Trexler Memorial Park, South Mountain Preserve, the new Saucon Rail Trail, and the Bob Rodale Fitness Park, which is perfect for kids learning to ride their bikes. Parking is easy and mostly free—and don’t tell anyone, but the parking tickets you get here are less than actually paying for parking in other cities. It’s diverse (ask for the real Chinese menu at Asia). The schools are great—Moravian Academy is best-in-class for half the price you would pay for a comparable school in Manhattan. And, unlike Manhattan, our real estate is reasonable. As my daughter says, for the price she paid for a “one-bedroom” apartment in New York City, she could have bought a MANSION here. Plus, restaurants like Bolete are as good as, or better than, any restaurant I’ve eaten at in New York or anywhere else.

And—music gets its own paragraph here—while we don’t have a major stadium here, what we have are awesome places to see artists on their way up and on their way around. I’ll never forget when I saw Kenny Chesney at the Allentown Fair before he started playing in the 50,000-seat stadiums. He was AWESOME. Same goes for Keith Urban at Musikfest. Yes. That same Keith Urban who is now a judge on American Idol. Or the Avett Brothers at Zoellner? Practically a religious experience. Seeing Bob Dylan play one of his most articulate and best shows ever at Stabler a few years ago was religious! And if we want to see the big shows, it’s just a hop, skip, and a jump to Philadelphia or New York.

Sometimes people who move here say it’s hard to meet other people. I think even for people who have lived here all their lives it can be hard to meet other people. But one of the best ways I’ve found is to join a nonprofit board. Once you get under the hood of this valley, its diversity and all the different businesses and stories and talents here are truly amazing. Whether it’s the arts represented by the Allentown Art Museum, Baum School, and Banana Factory, wildlife represented by the Wildlands Conservancy, or sports centers like the Velodrome (where you can get ORGANIC food that tastes awesome on a Friday night in the summer), there is something for everyone.

But I would be remiss in talking about my love for this place without mentioning our traditional cultures and history—yes, I’m talking about the stubborn, hard-headed Pennsylvania Dutch (blood of which I have my fair share). This valley was settled by a people who are disciplined and determined—and who know how to make a great fasnacht once a year.

Unlike other towns outlying the big cities, we don’t have a superiority complex here. If anything, we have an inferiority complex. We’ve seen the rises and falls (Bethlehem Steel) and the bubbles burst. But out here, it’s easier to take the long view.

As we say at Rodale, our roots grow deep. And there is not much soil more fertile, rich, and alive than good old Pennsylvania dirt.



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12 Responses to Why I Love the Lehigh Valley

  1. Brenda February 25, 2013 at 10:13 am #

    As another PA resident with a fair share of stubborn Dutch blood, I have to agree that areas of our state are amazing. Lancaster, where I live, is known for outlets and Amish everywhere else. But, like the Lehigh Valley, we have great restaurants and cultural opportunities. When I was younger, I wanted the excitement of a bigger city. Now I realize that this is perfect for me and my family. The beauty and serenity of the surrounding area can’t be beat.

  2. Inno J Volpe sr. February 25, 2013 at 1:37 pm #

    Your article was well done and you are right. having grown up in the valley . It has everything that New Yorh has only One of everything.with the onset of 78 the population has exploded in the last 10 years.I just wish that the new people would not try to change it as much.the Old ways are so interesting and Fun for all. the cultur and the atmosphere can not be bought. My Mother was born in Italy as was my father , they learned to read a write m My Mother taught the dutch kids to speak English, and they taught her Pa Dutch. she wrote and spoke four languages( Italian english Pa Dutch and german. when she died she had a pa dutch accent.My brother and I learned to speak and understand Englih, Italian an Pa Dutch, What Fun. It is ashamed no ! one speaks Dutch any more. Inno sr.

  3. Patricia Emerick February 25, 2013 at 9:29 pm #

    Great article…I agree completely that this area is amazing! Having lived here for eight years, the area is geographically ideal within one to two hours of major metropolitan areas and ski areas and beaches within a short drive. The area has everything cultural with endless restaurants and plenty of shopping. The high quality healthcare options and affordable real estate make it a fantastic place to live. Lastly, the people are friendly and welcoming – all in all a great place to live!!!

  4. Nancy February 25, 2013 at 10:15 pm #

    I moved to the Lehigh Valley for many of the reasons you note here, and have lived here now 7 years, but my school of choice for best-in-class is The Swain School another gem of an independent school that even has an organic garden sponsored by Rodale. Thank you!

  5. Rosalba February 26, 2013 at 1:02 am #

    Wonderful to read Maria, thank you! I miss it so!!
    But shhhhh….don’t tell too many people!

  6. Hillary Kwiatek (@hillarykwiatek) February 26, 2013 at 9:30 am #

    I moved here from Washington DC 12 1/2 years ago with my Allentown born husband and my infant son Miles. We bought a circa 1860 brick federal style home in the heart of Bethlehem in an area that feels like Georgetown, complete with a tow path and canal, for about 10% of what we would have paid in the city.

    Now we have two growing boys and sometimes the house feels a bit too cozy, but I have my wonderful organic vegetable garden, a bustling downtown, Artsquest and lots of other wonderful places just outside my door if I need to escape. And because of our proximity to NY and DC, I never really feel out of touch with the big city girl inside of me either.

    I have made some really good friends here, natives and transplants alike. And I feel more connected to my city in a way I wouldn’t in NY or DC. I know my mayor and city council members personally, and Miles is on the teen advisory board at the wonderful Bethlehem library.

    I could go on and on (OK maybe I have). Rosalba is right, I shouldn’t say anymore about how great the Lehigh Valley!

  7. Donna in Delaware February 26, 2013 at 10:39 am #

    I keep wondering why they are called ‘Pennsylvania Dutch’, instread of ‘Deutsch’ because in actuality, those immigrants hailed from Germany, Alsace, France and Switzerland. Was this just a mispronunciation of Deutsch and Dutch stuck? Plus they speak a very bad German. Some of it I can understand, mostly not, because my husband is German and speaks ‘Hoch Deutsch,’ he can bare understand them.

  8. Donna in Delaware February 26, 2013 at 10:42 am #

    There is not a more beautiful sight, than the Lehigh Valley in autumn! Amazing color, extraordinary beauty that can rival and surpass the best states in New England!

  9. Leanne from NC February 26, 2013 at 1:37 pm #

    I grew up there, and lived there for 25 years before moving south. I do miss it! Ah, the food (pierogies, great tomatoes, sho fly pies and pizza mostly), crisp cool fall evenings, my beautiful Moravian College and the Allentown Farmer’s Market! The Farmer’s Market is a jewel. If you haven’t visited, please do. You have no idea how lucky you are! We just don’t have places like that down here.

  10. Melody Bradford February 26, 2013 at 2:02 pm #

    A four season destination for sure – with so much to offer, and great place to raise a family! Even for those of us that have traveled far and wide, the valley is a great place to call home. I will count my time at Rodale as perhaps the best part of my “stay” here!

  11. Dana B February 27, 2013 at 5:13 pm #

    Great post! The fresh air–YES. And the ability to drive for 10 minutes in any direction and find that wide open space you were talking about.

    You’re so right about ‘getting under the hood’, this takes some serious time/effort/prying at the hood, prying again, NO, PRYING REALLY HARD THIS TIME, to get in.

    The small city/country feel so close to Philly & NY is such a valuable piece to the puzzle. It makes me feel like LV’ers are dedicated to the LV–and that’s a good feeling.

  12. Islandladi February 27, 2013 at 11:32 pm #

    Thank you for all the wonderful comments. One line of my immigrant ancestors settled in Lehigh Valley in the mid 1700’s and one is credited as having saved the Liberty Bell during the revolutionary war – burying it under a church in Allentown. Since I learned all my organic gardening from Rodale, this makes me really want to visit. As to those who wish people wouldn’t move there and want to change it …. I live in Florida near a beach – be grateful you are not a major tourist/snowbird/retirement destination – so I agree…. keep the beauty quiet!

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