COAL TOWNSHIP - Mike Yarnall wants to know why he and local residents who have enjoyed the land being developed for the Anthracite Outdoor Adventure Area - formerly known as the Anthracite Outdoor Recreation Area as well as the Northumberland County Off-Highway Vehicle Park - will be forced to pay for the services they once enjoyed for free.

"I won't be able to afford to go out with my vehicles. It doesn't cost us nothing but fuel (now)," the Shamokin man said Tuesday night at the second of three public meetings held at the Shamokin Area Middle/High School.

He said he and his family camp on the county-owned property every year for multiple holidays and weekends, and he doesn't think it's fair that local residents would have to pay to enjoy the land once the park is developed.

"I'm not here to cause trouble. I'm here to voice my opinion," he said.

When John Buckle, a consultant of Pashek Associates, began to answer his question, telling him how the people behind the park were considering discounts for local residents, Yarnall walked away from the microphone.

Yarnall was one of many in the packed school auditorium to either show support or disdain for the proposed off-highway vehicle park within 6,000 acres of county-owned land in Zerbe, Coal, West Cameron, East Cameron and Mount Carmel townships.

During the presentation, the consultants said the average cost of a daily pass at other OHV parks around the nation was listed as $20 for adults.

Clint Grommett, of Shamokin, asked how the county could justify spending so much money on something that would bring "only 131 jobs."

Although outsiders support the project, "I've talked to more than 1,000 people, and no one supports it," said Grommett.

He asked whether the county residents would be allowed to vote on it.

The former county solicitor Timothy Bowers said the county commissioners were not required to take the project to vote. A vote must be authorized by the state government.

Northumberland County Planning Commission Director Pat Mack said all concerns voiced at Tuesday's meeting have been addressed or will be addressed.

"From the word 'go,' it was considered how to accommodate the locals. This is their land," he explained.

More than motorized

The proposed plan offers opportunities for all types of motorized and non-motorized vehicle use and will encompass 35 parcels of county-owned land.

The goal of the project is to "embrace the Lower Anthracite Region and transform it into a national destination for outdoor, year-round recreation," according to a media release. "The focus of the project is to provide a safe and regulated environment for use of the motorized off-highway vehicles and non-motorized recreation. The recreation area would serves as a destination for many types of outdoor activities in a family-oriented and safe environment."

The project is proposed to include a welcome center, a parking area to accommodate trailers, extensive system of organized trails with signs, camp sites with both primitive and full comfort hook ups, restrooms, shower facilities, picnic pavilions and tables, vehicle washing centers and emergency landing zones.

The park is expected to bring in $1,961,400 for every 30,000 visitors, and will create approximately 130 jobs. For 1,000 visitors, revenue is expected to be $65,380, and about four jobs will be created.

There is no estimated project cost yet, said Mack, but the final business plan should be completed by the third and final meeting in January.

The Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR) has approved the county for a $400,000 grant with a requirement of a 20 percent match, which can be attained through additional grants.

Maps and proposed areas of use were presented at the meeting.

A main entrance will be built east of Route 125. This section will include the majority of the non-motorized areas, and will include a zip line, a loop access road, rock crawling and buffers between all neighboring properties.

Much of the motorized recreation will be built west of Route 125 and will include rock crawling and buffers between all neighboring properties.

To connect the eastern and western section, a tunnel beneath Route 125 is proposed, but no cost estimate has been determined yet.

Supporters from out of town

Dave DeChristopher, of Ephreta, said he had a packet of information for the county and consultants, but decided against giving it them once he heard the presentation.

"You guys have done your homework," said the man, one of several members of the PA Jeeps to attend the meeting to show support of the park.

"You have successfully catered to us," he said.

He promised the plan would bring off-road enthusiasts like himself into the area.

Other organizations such as the Finger Lakes 4x4 club were in attendance as well to show their support.

Cora Crowley, of Rochester, N.Y., traveled 230 miles to show support for the park.

"You have a gem here," she said.

However, on a county tour of the land, she was appalled by the "lack of respect" shown toward the land. She observed garbage strewn about on the land. She also witnessed children riding vehicles without helmets or shoes and adults riding vehicles with two beers in their hands.

"I wouldn't bring my children there. I wouldn't even take my dog there," she said of the land in its current state.

Cliff Carner, of Coal Township, said it was "nice to see people from outside the area" showing support for the park, but what about the local residents?

He said the local taxpayers would foot the bill for insurance costs and liabilities.

"I'm asking the tough questions," he said.

'Good input'

Following the public participation, Mack said the meeting was a success.

"We'll take the data - good, bad or otherwise - and digest it," he said. "It's good input, and I'm glad to see people speak their minds."

The residents all have good points, he said.

"These are the things we assumed, but we needed to hear it," said Mack.

He added that he was confident that the county will find a way to accommodate everyone.

The next meeting will be held in January.