December 22, 2018


Shamokin could cash in on mountain biking at AOAA


SHAMOKIN — Gasoline fuels the off-road vehicles speeding through trails at the Anthracite Outdoor Adventure Area in Northumberland County, but attention is now turning toward mountain biking and its potential economic impact on the coal region.

“I think we need to start having the discussion about how to open mountain bike trails,” said Pat Mack, a member of the AOAA board. “Our tagline is ‘recreational opportunities.’ We don’t put ‘motorized’ in front on purpose. I think it’s time for us to get to work.”

Off-road vehicles, or ORVs, are the backbone of the business plan at the county-owned recreation site. Nearly 19,000 passes were sold last year to riders exploring the 6,500 acres of forest and reclaimed coal land stretched across five townships. The main trailhead is on Route 125 in Coal Township, about 2 miles south of Shamokin.

Hundreds of visitors for the first time were granted access in November to ride into downtown Shamokin. Business boomed for restaurants and convenience stores. The one-time event was a test run for what’s expected to become routine.

Part of AOAA’s mission is economic development, said state Rep. Kurt Masser, a former county commissioner who championed the land development project.

Mountain biking would lure a whole new segment of customers to the area and access on and off the trails would be less complicated, Masser said. He pointed to the culture Jim Thorpe created as a destination for outdoor recreation and niche shopping.

It’s believed that building up the former could help build up the latter in Shamokin.

“It is something I have certainly been strongly suggesting to AOAA board members. A lot of (merchants) in town are clamoring for it. It is a logical next step,” Masser said.

Masser and Mack said monetizing the trails for biking may not be feasible. The economic benefit would be in what local entrepreneurs could build off of a new market segment. Opening trails would bring some cost, but many are likely ready to ride as they stand now, Mack said. Plus, ORVs and bikes could share some trails, Mack said.

The AOAA Authority is establishing priorities now for 2019. Mack said he’d volunteer mountain biking as one of those priorities. Masser said locals familiar with the land and the sport would be sought for input. Mack said that input could come from beyond the coal region, too, from enthusiasts throughout the Susquehanna Valley.

“I think the trails are there that you could make it a destination for sure. All around (Shamokin) there’s great areas where you could mountain bike, not just AOAA,” Masser said.

“Look at unPAved and what it did for Lewisburg that weekend, it’s fantastic. There’s no reason why we can’t have that at AOAA,” Mack said.

unPAved is a gravel race that premiered in October in Lewisburg. It utilized back roads and off-road trails in the Bald Eagle State Forest, creating multiple loops of varying degree of difficulty, from 32 to 120 miles. The inaugural event drew 600 riders from throughout the river valley as well as Philadelphia, New York and even further. Organizers expect 1,000 riders next year.

The race was marketed specifically to biking enthusiasts in metropolitan areas as they’re willing to travel to trails that are new and challenging and shop and stay overnight or longer.

Cycling tourism has blossomed into a focus for the Susquehanna River Valley Visitors Bureau, said its executive director, Andrew Miller.

“It is absolutely perfect. The infrastructure is there for it,” Miller said of AOAA. “The fact that it’s novel and new would have great appeal.”

“What it would mean for downtown Shamokin is more people literally going downtown whether they’re on bicycles or not,” Miller said.

AOAA to use $25K grant to connect trails


A $25,000 state grant will allow officials from the Anthracite Outdoor Adventure Area to connect two dead-ends in the 6,500-acre site filled with trails for all-terrain vehicles.

On Tuesday, Gov. Tom Wolf's administration announced the AOAA was awarded the grant along with a group in Clarion and Jefferson counties.

"It was something we were taking a really hard look at," Dave Porzi, operations manager for the AOAA, said of the expansion. "We applied for the grant, and now that we got it, depending on when the funding comes in, we hope to have it up for the summer of 2019."

The AOAA covers 6,500 acres of forest and reclaimed coal land in Coal, East Cameron, Mount Carmel, West Cameron and Zerbe townships. The park is owned by Northumberland County and managed by the AOAA Authority.

The grant will allow for construction of approximately a quarter mile of the Boyers Knob Trail and rehabilitation of approximately half a mile of the same trail. Additionally, Porzi said it will allow park officials to create a rest area where park visitors can stop.

"When they were building the Williams Pipeline, when they came across East Cameron Mountain they created this natural vista," Porzi said. "Once we get the trails connected, we hope to create a destination spot there."

“Using funds from ATV riders when they register their vehicles, these grants will help improve riding opportunities,” said Department of Conservation and Natural Resources Secretary Cindy Adams Dunn. “ATV trails draw visitors and can have a positive economic impact on nearby communities.”

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