COAL TOWNSHIP - As many as 450 quad and dirt-bike enthusiasts are expected to descend upon the mountainside near Burnside this weekend when the Valley Forge Trail Riders host "Anthracite Hare Scrambles" at the site of the proposed Anthracite Outdoor Adventure Area (AOAA).

Attracting such a large group of riders is indicative of the appeal of the AOAA, said Pat Mack, planning director for Northumberland County, despite concerns from critics who don't believe the county should be in the off-road business.

Other than the county providing the waivers and the land, however, it will take a back seat when it comes to how the event will run, Mack said.

Members of Valley Forge Trail Riders have visited the AOAA land on several occasions since November to prepare for the event. Most of that time was spent creating and marking trails.

"We don't cut trees down. We go and find a way around the trees," said Rick Kivela, president.

"The group has been cutting downed trees and face-slappers," he added. "Ninety-five percent of the work is oriented in the woods making trails."

After getting the opportunity to view the AOAA during the past few months, Kivela said the land has a lot of potential.

"Anything you want to do, it can be done here," Kivela said. "It has a lot of stuff for Jeeps and quads; however, motorcycles are limited. It was easy terrain to work with. The trail system went in easily."

'Anybody can do it'

In "scrambles," riders complete as many laps on a course as possible in a certain time frame. There are 47 classes involving various bike sizes and rider ages.

The Valley Forge group, chartered in 1972 with the American Motorcyclist Association (AMA), is dedicated to the preservation of off-road motorcycling. Membership includes men and women of all ages and ability levels from Pennsylvania and several neighboring states. The group has held at least two races every year for more than 30 years.

This is the first time the group will hold an event in the Shamokin area.

"It's 100 percent public. Anybody can come and do it," Kivela said of the event this weekend. "There are certain requisitions, such as proper riding gear, plus you have to join the AMA."

Kivela said the $39 AMA fee is required because the group sanctions the event.

Otherwise, entry fees vary from $25 to $40, depending on the class. Spectators, who may walk around any area of the course, will be charged a $5 gate fee.

The Friendship Fire Company, Shamokin, will provide food and beverages.

Beginning at 11:30 a.m. Saturday and lasting throughout the day, youth riders take the course. Adult races start at 8 a.m. Sunday with "C" class, which Kivela described as beginning-adult classes.

In one-minute intervals, riders depart from a common start line onto a primary course. Riders then branch out into one or more of the seven additional courses that vary in skill level. Times and locations of the riders are recorded by a transponder attached to a rider's quad or dirt bike.

"The courses are designed so a beginner is in one spot and not another where he will get hurt," Kivela said. "People have a better time and don't get beat up."

County preparation

The AOAA is designed to cover more than 6,596 acres of county-owned land spread across Coal, Mount Carmel, East and West Cameron and Zerbe townships.

Although the park has yet to officially open, the county has already hosted several private and public events, including a trailgating walk and equipment demonstrations by major riding manufacturers. This weekend's event, however, is likely the largest hosted thus far.

Mack said discussions between county officials and the Valley Forge Trail Riders began nearly a year ago. Topics included insurances, waivers and identifying resources.

"We cleared the event with the Pennsylvania Game Commission and environmental agencies to make sure it was copacetic," Mack said.

At the county's urging, Valley Forge Trail Riders also contracted Coal Township Police Department to provide an officer.

With the AOAA area starting to lure large groups, Mack is optimistic for a future grand opening of the park. Although he could not provide an exact amount, approximately $5 from each registrant will flow to the county from this weekend's event.

"We are very accessible, and we are an attraction," Mack said. "It's affirming what we saw in the master plan and projections."

Grant money

In mid-December, Gov. Tom Corbett announced Northumberland County will receive $1.5 million in state money to further develop the park, the largest amount awarded by the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR) for conservation and recreation projects in that round of funding.

Additionally, the county received $300,000 in last year from the federal Appalachian Regional Commission to construct a 1,280-foot paved road from Route 125 south of Burnside to AOAA's welcome center and educational facility on the east side of the highway, as well as a $20,000 Yamaha Off-Highway Vehicle Access Initiative Grant for trail development, mapping and signage; a $10,000 Polaris TRAILS Program grant for trail design and development, and $400,000 in 2010 from DCNR snowmobile and ATV fund.