Profile: Denise Gehringer

By Bryan Perry |

“The Great Allegheny Passage is beautiful. You can walk it. You can ride it. You can hike it. You can ride 20 miles without seeing a soul. You can go downhill both ways from Meyersdale and get shuttled back. You go around a bend and see farmland that is cut a different way, or a field that is planted with different vegetation. When you look at the whole thing it’s a journey through a patchwork quilt.”

“At Yoder’s Guest House, we call ourselves the Accidental Innkeepers.

“Originally, we thought we bought a weekend business. In reality we bought a full-time, six-month business. We purchased this rental building in Meyersdale in 2014, figuring it was part of our retirement plan. Over the course of the next three years, we took away the apartments and changed it to all lodging rooms.

“A month and a half after buying it, there was a fire here in Meyersdale. I watched as a neighbor’s house burn to the ground. That fire showed me just how tight this community was and how they worked together. I knew if something ever happened to me, this community would have my back. Years later when my husband had an illness, they prayed for him on every church list.

“Our cycling guests have guided us along to where we are today. We didn’t have a bike pump for them. We got one. They asked for spray lubricant, I added that to my shopping list. Somebody called about hairdryers. I said: ‘I don’t think there’s one in the room, but you’re coming in September. We can do that.’ I’d like to say we were really sharp thinkers but when I came in one day and the peanut butter was out of the cabinet that I used for baking, I asked: ‘What’s this for?’ They said: ‘Protein!’ It was just trial and error and learning what they wanted.

“The Great Allegheny Passage is beautiful. You can walk it. You can ride it. You can hike it. You can ride 20 miles without seeing a soul. You can go downhill both ways from Meyersdale and get shuttled back. You go around a bend and see farmland that is cut a different way, or a field that is planted with different vegetation. When you look at the whole thing it’s a journey through a patchwork quilt.

“Not everybody riding it knows what they’re doing. Weather sometimes plays a part. We always have a couple incidents in the early spring when people aren’t conditioned for it. One year I was waiting for guests. It was dark. The local police called and said: ‘There are three women here at the trail. They said they’re staying with you. Something’s wrong with them, like they’re intoxicated.’ I said: ‘Officer, I can assure you they’re not. They’re probably exhausted and delirious.’ They got a police escort to our place.

“Eventually we bought a shuttle to help guests that get stranded. It’s just one of those things. I’m a mom. I’m a wife. I would want somebody to come get me. They’re our guests and at the mercy of who’s going to answer the phone.

“Being close to the Big Savage Tunnel is a hardship in the wintertime because there’s not an easy way around it. The year before COVID we had a guest in early December, when I never expected to see a cyclist. We’re in the middle of a 50-person event and this cyclist turns up. He’s wet and cold. We said: ‘Go grab a plate of food. There’s plenty.’ He said: ‘No, I just need a hot shower.’ So he goes to his room. Two or three days later, we’re in Pittsburgh in a little restaurant and I hear a guy talking about the trail. I said to my husband: ‘I think that’s the guy that just stayed with us two nights ago.’ I said to the guy: ‘Did you just stay in Meyersdale?’ He said: ‘I sure did.’ I said: ‘I think you stayed with us at Yoder’s Guest House.’ And he said: ‘I sure did!’ That was a really cool moment.”

This content was created by Anita Harnish for the Great Allegheny Passage Conservancy and funded in part by a grant from the Community Conservation Partnerships Program Environmental Stewardship Fund, under the administration of the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, Bureau of Recreation and Conservation administered through the Pennsylvania Environmental Council’s Laurel Highlands Mini Grant Program, and in part by the Somerset County Tourism Grant Program.

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