AOAA: Family tourism dollars key to park
Andy Heintzelman: Thank you all for coming. This is the sixth year for our Business Roundtable. This year the topic is the Anthracite Outdoor Adventure Area, an important business development for the eastern end of Northumberland County. Obviously, there’s been some tension over this; there will probably be more tension. That’s part of the reason we’re here: Let’s get the facts out, let’s get a quality discussion and let’s inform the community. I thought the best way to start would be with Pat or Kathy. The most recent big news was the receipt of $1.5 million from the state. Where does that put the project going into this year?
Pat Mack: That’s just the beginning of the clock. We’re headed down to Harrisburg next week to have kick-off conversations of where the funding stream is coming from. In addition to that $1.5 million — $400,000 was acquired in 2010 and the master plan completed. Additionally, there was match money ($300,000) that came from the federal Appalachian Regional Commission to put in an access road. We got $1.3 million from OSM (Office of Surface Mining) and DEP to do some reclamation work. That money combined gets us to a point where we feel comfortable enough to open and start what is the actual formulation of a concept plan. It’s premature to say it’s going to happen immediately; it’s a long process.
Heintzelman: What might that translate into? I think we have Jeep USA coming in August this year. What else might happen on the property to make it appear the AOAA is up and running?
Mack: We’re in a unique position; we’ve said that throughout the planning process. We have a project, we just need to formalize it. The amount of activity that’s out there is vast. We’ve been approached, and the e-mails and the outreach are rampant. People want to know how to get passes; they want to know the timeline. A lot of the questions people are asking us are questions we have, too: How fast is this going to happen? When will we get going? A lot is unknown, even from the state side. They’re working on a federal piece of funding. ... It gets the wheels turning; once they turn, it falls into place, but it’s about getting that ball started. You’ll see some events started.
Heintzelman: Are you anywhere near a ceremony where you cut a ribbon?
Mack: Not that I’m aware of.
Heintzelman: That’s a couple years out maybe?
Mack: Years is optimistic. That’s what we’re hoping for. We’ve talked to the engineering folks. To get these things ready, you have to get environmental stuff done, other things done. We told the state that we’ll go as fast as the money goes; I think the state will go as fast as the money goes. We have to clear the red tape, and that process sometimes can take a long time.
Heintzelman: Pat, we had a discussion where you explained the business model of this. No one’s really familiar with how an off-road vehicle park works to begin with, but you had described it to me in relation to another major local tourism business. I thought it would be good to explain that to our readership.
Mack: I call it — and I think Kathy’s probably heard it too many times — the token opposite of Knoebels. Knoebels’ attraction is the rides, the water park and the kids rides and the merry-go-rounds. And then they also have all the food and games and everything else that you can do when you’re there on your family experience. The Knoebels family is in business to make money, and they do a good job at it. They have everything on site, so you come to that site for the day and you don’t leave. You don’t want to have to leave. AOAA is different from the standpoint that we want people to come for the riding and recreation experience, but then go into downtown. Have a need for parts, a need for rentals, a need for whatever equipment they have, a need for food and drinks, and we want the AOAA to get you here, but we want the area to keep you here. We want you to come back for the best steak sandwich in the world. The fact that someone like Tom (Sebastian) is so close by, you’re having a cabin fever sale (for example, that would lure riders).
Bevo Forti: What the off-road park is, it’s a destination. That means it’s tourism. I’ve been to a lot of these parks around the country, and they bring a lot of revenue into the area. These people aren’t bringing nuclear waste or garbage, they’re bringing revenue. And that’s what this county needs right now — revenue. The whole thing about the political scheme about running for president is creating jobs; this will create jobs. The beauty we have here is the park itself will entertain the father and the riders. Then we have Knoebels that will entertain the non-riders. It’s a perfect package. It will become a destination. Destination needs hotels. Destination needs restaurants. Destination needs theaters. That’s what it can do for a county.
Heintzelman: Do you believe Northumberland County has the elements to create what you’re describing?
Forti: It has all of the elements. It has more elements because of Knoebels. That’s an extra attraction to offer.
Heintzelman: Let’s say the county does an ad campaign to attract regional riders, even out-of-state riders, to this park. If you were behind that campaign, how would you package that with Knoebels? What would the ad say? “Riders come for the week? By the way, your wife and younger kids can go to Knoebels?” Is that what you’re describing?
Forti: You can actually do a family package, because that’s who rides motorcycles and ATVs and side-by-sides — it’s families. At Hatfield and McCoy (a similar off-highway vehicle, or OHV park, in West Virginia), there is no amusement park a few miles away. That’s why we can make this a destination. And destination means credit cards.
Heintzelman: You mentioned families are the ones who ride. If you pick the top one or two things that have been a concern for this idea, it’s that you’re taking away what exists now (for local families). And I know there are a lot of elements to this — it’s trespassing on county land, for one. But it’s something people can do now for free with their families. What does anyone say to the notion that you’re taking something away that exists now in an area that doesn’t have much?
Forti: I think you’re going to make it more professional. You’re going to take away the trespassing. You’re going to take away the violations. I don’t know the logistics (about the county discounting the price for locals), but people in Orlando don’t pay full price for Disney. It’s a season pass and it’s very reasonable. What are you taking away from people? It’s not theirs in the first place.
Tom Sebastian: I don’t really think you’re taking away anything either. I think you’re enhancing the experience. People are coming and riding anyhow. I think it’s better to be regulated. The people who are breaking the law, the riff-raff, they’re not going to be there. It is going to be more of a family sport if the park is in place.
Heintzelman: Would you argue that it may open the door for more local people to feel comfortable to go out there who maybe don’t go now because they don’t know what they’re going to run into?
Sebastian: Definitely. I know so many people who ride but will not ride out there because of all the lawlessness. They’re afraid of getting hurt. They want it to be calmed down and more legalized, marked trails. You go out there now and you could be riding an ATV and a guy could be coming down the road in a truck at 70 mph and take you out.
Bernie Rumberger: You see it all the time now. That’s what will be nice about it; once it’s done, and the trails marked, it will be a lot safer than what it is today. We (AREA Services) are out there, I can’t tell you how many times a weekend. Weekends, we have crews on constantly because of Coal Hill (in Trevorton).
Sebastian: Everybody’s going wild. They can do anything they want to do.
Rumberger: They don’t know where they’re going.
Kathy Jeremiah: Do you think it will decrease your responses or increase them?
Rumberger: I don’t know if it will decrease, because you’re bringing more people to it. I don’t think the severity will be as bad. It will be safer when you know where to ride. I don’t think we’ll be called out less, but I don’t think it will be as severe.
Dave Kaleta: I believe the park is only going to relocate illegal activity. If you look at the map, there’s a lot of space around, between the actual park. I know from talking to adjacent land owners, most of them are against this, because it’s only going to push illegal activity.
Rumberger: There is (illegal activity) now. There’s nowhere to go; that’s what’s happening.
Kaleta: When I first heard about this plan two to three years ago, I thought it was going to be more regional. I thought private landowners would sign on. Instead of being a couple green spots on the map, it would be more regionalized. I’m working with the Coal Township police quite a bit on investigating illegal dumpsites; I go out and I do a lot of work in Burnside. The amount of dumping in that area has decreased tremendously. Now there’s a lot of dumping on Big Mountain, the Third Patch along Bear Valley Road is extremely bad, and just east of Burnside on the Rosini property, we’ve cleaned it up twice, and it’s a God-awful mess. They’re paying attention to where the arrests are being made in the paper, and they’re going elsewhere.
Heintzelman: Could you argue it’s better to have some of that under control?
Kaleta: It’s not going to eliminate it.
Rumberger: We’re talking about bringing people in from out of the area who are probably going to be very clean and take care of everything. You’re talking about local people who are destroying.
Jeff Herb: On Saturdays and Friday nights, we have a lot of people coming into the shop. Coal Hill is right across the street. The majority of the people we have as customers are out-of-towners, people from Harrisburg, Lancaster, York, some from Hazleton. They’re definitely of a lot better character than the locals as far as how they carry themselves. I would say 80 percent of them ask me, “How and where can I do this legally?” “Is this OK?” What I’m concerned about is a lot of people have their 1974 Yamaha DT100s who want to go riding. And they don’t have a title. When they need to get something from DCNR (Department of Conservation and Natural Resources) to take to the state to get insurance to get registration, they need an option. If you follow the process of getting legal to ride, the cleanest way is buy a brand new bike from a dealership, and then it all goes very smoothly. Not a lot of people know (what to do) to make them legal, but they want to know.
Mack: From your opinion, they would do it?
Herb: Oh, absolutely.
Mack: That’s a conversation we’ve not had with Wes, but with his higher-ups. These people would do it, if there was a protocol.
Heintzelman: You think the customers coming in and riding Coal Hill for $125 a year from Reading Anthracite for a permit, they would feel more comfortable to ride at a place like this?
Herb: Yes. It’s the same thing as a spill on the floor. When a sign is put up that there’s a spill on the floor, it doesn’t change the fact that there’s a spill on the floor, but now people see it and it’s going to be regulated. (Right now), some people have trucks, some people have motorcycles, and if they don’t see each other — boom.
Heintzelman: Let’s get this on the record: What is the latest plan for the county in terms of what you’re going to charge the locals? Is it definite?
Mack: The plan is a guiding document for a management entity. It came as a recommendation of $80 for the yearly fee with the thought that locals would be cheaper. (Defining cheaper), we’ve said 10 percent, we’ve said $10; I’ve heard some people say more, I’ve heard some people say it should be the same. What do you define as local? Do you define it as county? State? But the plan says $80 (regular price); that’s the hard number right now.
Heintzelman: You’re still proceeding with the notion that there would be some kind of discount for whatever you define as local?
Mack: Right. As Bevo pointed out, people in Orlando or Florida state residents get a cheaper rate at Disney, and that’s something we’re going to have to work out with DCNR. They’re our funding streams. What will they accept? Maybe they’ll say, “Hey, we represent all the taxpayers of the commonwealth, so they have to be at a discount.”
Sebastian: I want to go back to your opening statement, Dave. I didn’t quite understand. You were saying if you regulate the park, the outlaw people will go other places?
Sebastian: I correlate that with your cleanups. You’re cleaning up wherever you said, and they’re going other places. Does that mean you shouldn’t clean up?
Kaleta: We should clean up, and then gate it.
Sebastian: In relation to the park, I don’t see how it could be a bad thing. You’re regulating something. Sure, maybe the outlaws are going to go somewhere else, and then shut them down there. These people are coming to dump in the Gap now, too.
Kaleta: I supported the whole thing right from the beginning.
Sebastian: I’m not saying you didn’t. I’m just trying to clarify that statement.
Kaleta: I’m telling you what other people are saying through the area, especially adjacent landowners. It’s going to push (the illegal activity) everywhere. It’s good, you’ll have this spot controlled and cleaned up and taken care of.
Sebastian: They want people to dump on the county lands rather than their own lands. Let’s stop the dumping.
Kaleta: I’ve been working on it for 12 years, and it hasn’t slowed down an inch.
Mack: We’ve had an open dialogue with Rosini; we’ve had open dialogue with Blaschak, we’ve had a sit-down with Girard and Helfrick (all adjacent landowners). But, of course, the major piece, the elephant in the room, is Reading Anthracite. They started with a dialogue and then sort of backed off. They’re not in the recreation business. At the end of the day, they’re sitting there and saying, “Listen, do I work on a power plant today or do I talk to some guy from the county about a recreation project?” I think that dialogue will come when they see either good for bad. Will they see the fact that a lot of the people who buy Reading Anthracite permits are moving on (to the AOAA) because it’s cheaper? Or will they buy both?
Forti: Why does Reading Anthracite have a pass?
Sebastian: They’re a quasi-park.
Heintzelman: Let’s come back to the business of all this. You’ve already talked about it a little bit, actually, Jeff and Tom. What’s the word from your customers, both locally or regionally or statewide, about the park concept?
Herb: Some of the people have been coming here for 15 to 20 years for whatever reason, and they don’t know a park is going in. The ones that are aware are excited to hear that something’s coming. The majority of them want a park, but you still have an issue where people want a vehicle for their kid. Even with a permit, they can’t ride on DCNR-Reading land. If this park provides an opportunity to legally do that, then they don’t have any concern of the staties showing up, and certain people getting fines and mailed to them next week. That’s how they do it now.
Heintzelman: The timing of your business is interesting in that it opened up around the time this project started. I don’t know what you want to divulge about your business plan, especially with a competitor sitting across the table from you, but did you guys start in part because this park is coming? Or did you have enough going on at Coal Hill?
Herb: I can’t speak for the owner completely, but I know the opportunity is that this a place where people ride, whether that’s Irish Valley or the track in West Cameron or Coal Hill. He saw there was a need. It’s a great location. Our problem at this point is that people don’t really shop (at Mountainside Motorsports), they come when they break things. That’s also an advantage; our location (adjacent to Coal Hill) definitely gets us more business. ... There are other family members of our owner who have gotten involved in buying properties for housing for when people do camps and stuff. A lot of people are doing it, grabbing up cabins. At Mountainside, we’re trying to grow with it, not ahead of it.
Heintzelman: Tom, from a business standpoint, what’s your vision if this comes to fruition?
Sebastian: I think it’s not only going to help both of us in the motorcycle and ATV business, but all the businesses in the area. That’s one of the county’s goals, I’m happy to hear. As Jeff stated, they’re here and might break things and might come to us to get them fixed or for the parts. They’re going to be staying in hotels, eating at restaurants, buying gas in gas stations. It’s tourism. You’re bringing tourists in to do something, whether to be at the park or their wives going to Knoebels or whatever it might be, it’s going to benefit.
Heintzelman: How long have you been in business and has your business picked up in general?
Sebastian: About 12 years. Sure, it gets better every year, but it’s not so much just on this park. Quite a few people have ATVs. It’s becoming more and more of a family sport. Years ago, you’d find teenagers ripping around with bandanas on their heads. Now you’re getting husbands and wives taking their kids out riding, four ATVs in a family. They are really looking for legal and regulated places to ride.
Rumberger: That’s the way it used to be at one time (only younger riders). You see family all the time out there now.
Sebastian: One of the things I think we touched on in the beginning of the conversation is the opinion of the local riders. When this first came to the spotlight here, I had two schools of thought. A lot of people were, “Oh, we’ve been riding out there for free, and now we’re going to have to pay. And they’re not going to let us do this and they’re not going to let us do that.” And the other school of thought was, “It’s great. It’s finally going to be safe and regulated and I’ll gladly pay the fee and it will be worth it.” I’ve heard such off-the-wall statements coming from not only ATV riders but people in the area, such as, “Where am I going to dump my garbage now?” That’s been stated more than once. “Where are the kids going to drink?” “Where are we going to shoot our guns?” Sometimes you’ve got to abide by the law.
Heintzelman: Back to your comment that it’s not just good for your ATV business brings us to Jennifer. What does One Smart Cookie have to do with off-roading?
Jennifer Marshall: We’re thinking about putting a building on the land and making food for the riders who stop, putting a little picnic area to sit at if they don’t want to go off the premises to eat. Just picnic food and stuff they can take with them.
Heintzelman: If that happens for your business, would that mean expansion in terms of maybe a few more jobs?
Marshall: Employing people on the weekends. We would have to have someone there all the time.
Heintzelman: For small businesses, Pat and Kathy no doubt envision that same kind of ancillary fallout from the main attraction, as you described earlier. Have you heard other examples of businesses like Jennifer’s that you wouldn’t initially think of that might benefit from this?
Mack: They were the most mature. When they came to us, they had already been far along in their planning. I’ve heard people interested in running tours and folks who are talking about the graphic design side of it, because you’re going to have restaurants who need things like menus or other things designed, and websites. That’s a piece of it that I didn’t think about before.
Sebastian: Campsites, storage sheds, bed and breakfasts. There’s rumors of all of this from people kicking these ideas around.
Wes Fahringer: This area has very creative people who can develop really smart ways of growing their businesses. Their own creativity can tie into this.
Jeremiah: They think outside the box.
Fahringer: Yes. That’s what I see, the creative engine of local entrepreneurship.
Jeremiah: If everybody looks at this blown-up insert of our trailhead, number two marked there is going to be the commercial vendors. We’ll have a paved access road that, when you come off of Route 125, you’ll have to enter through vendor row. It’s a 14-acre area that will have any kind of vendors selling whatever they want. Someone can sell watches, jewelry, T-shirts, auto parts, anything.
Mack: The plan was also for people like One Smart Cookie. Maybe they don’t want to make the investments of a building, but they want to learn or see as the AOAA develops. So maybe it is something where they cater for an event weekend or they cater for a weekend. It’s not designed to just be hard assets; it’s not designed to be a strip mall. It’s designed to be complementary and grow with it. There may be some hard assets, but there should also be some vendors like the Bloomsburg Fair where people can come in and set up and customers walk in.
Heintzelman: You would obviously charge a fee for the vendor to be there?
Mack: That’s referenced in the business plan. We would charge the users a tiered option; if you want a hard spot year-round and so forth. You would be making that investment.
Forti: In my end of the industry — which is manufacturing — we are affiliated with a distributor called Parts Unlimited. We would actually bring in Parts Unlimited and us (100% brand goggles). Parts Unlimited is a billion-dollar company, and we would host ride dates for local dealers in the area. We would need catering. We would probably end up with 300 to 400 people. That’s what you’re going to get from the motorcycle industry itself; that’s what you can expect.
Heintzelman: While we’re on the topic, I’m sure the county was excited, and I think it really opened a lot of people’s eyes, when you sold out that Jeep show.
Kathy: Jeep Jamboree USA, in 15 hours. And they cut it off at 90 (entrants).
Heintzelman: What did that tell you about what this industry is looking for?
Forti: The industry we’re in, the biggest problem is land closures. Now you’re going to give a place for people to ride. They will come; if you have it, they will come. When you’re talking about events, we already have people from West Virginia, an organization willing to come check out the land. If they do, it’s a turnkey operation. They come for two days, rent the property — they rent it all. You’re talking on a Saturday for the ATVs, they probably have 500 entries. On a Sunday, with bikes, they probably have 600 or 700. You’re talking 1,200 people.
Heintzelman: When Larry (Deklinski) went out to Rock Run, we were a little surprised at the lack of activity.
Larry Deklinski: Thursday evening I arrived, and Friday morning is when I went to the site. Thursday evening, there was no one in the parking lot at 5 p.m., but I did meet two people from Selinsgrove. They were eating at a local restaurant in town. I went out there Friday at 10 in the morning for a tour, but there was only one party out there the whole three, four hours I was with this gentleman.
Heintzelman: That’s a bit of a concern. I hear what you’re saying, the Jeep Jamboree is a very good example of interest. Here, we went to an existing park and it wasn’t paying for itself, those days anyway.
Deklinski: In the same breath, he said he had a couple thousand people two weekends before that for an event.
Sebastian: If you go over to Knoebels on a Wednesday morning, it’s pretty empty, too. It is a weekend business. There will be some during the week.
Forti: You turn it into a destination. That’s the plan of this park, to be a destination. You have a lot of good selling points in this area.
Sebastian: There are two aspects of this park, too. You have your basic riding seven days a week, but there are also going to be events, the Jeep Jamboree, there’s a hair scramble scheduled already; there are going to be many more. I’m a racer. I’ve been racing since 1972, and they’ll bring in a couple thousand people. All these people, when they’re done, 90 percent of them are going to go to a restaurant to eat. They’re all going to need gas when they get here, groceries if they’re staying here for two or three days. There’s a track in New York; you go out there on a normal day, it’s a farm field in the middle of nowhere; nobody around. You go there on a race weekend and there are 20,000 people there. Gas stations have lines, restaurants are packed, hotels are booked months in advance.
Heintzelman: While we’re on the issue of thousands of people coming for events, TJ, why don’t you jump in here. How does the Line Mountain Four-Wheelers Association see this park in light of what you guys already have? You get people all over the East Coast for your events.
TJ Lenig: We have three events each year at our track at West Cameron. Two years ago, we did an event at Rausch Creek (near Joliett, Schuylkill County), which is a four-wheel drive park. We went up there for an event and had great success; we had 100 competitors. As for what I see in the future, our track is on private property, and we’ve lost pieces of property in the past. To say the track will be there for another 40 years …
Heintzelman: What are the comments you hear from locals or out-of-the-area folks coming for your events about the OHV park?
Lenig: A lot of the same that’s been said already. A lot of local guys, they feel entitled to the property; it’s always been there. But they’ve been trespassing on it since day one.
Heintzelman: How would your group work with the park? You’re a nonprofit organization, but is this a threat to the Line Mountain Four-Wheelers?
Lenig: It’s an enhancement. If for some reason we do lose our property in West Cameron, it gives us an opportunity to hold events at this place.
Herb: I think it falls into that category when we’re talking about the type of organization we’d be. The county, the government, the state — the clubs would also be a contributor. That’s a good example.
Forti: One of the things I heard from Kathy is that there has already been an ATV club formed. How many members do you have?
Jeremiah: It started Nov. 30, and they’re called the Anthracite Trail Riders. Last I heard they’re up to 77 members.
Forti: And you all went out to a restaurant and ate out?
Jeremiah: Yes. We ate at Brewser’s in one of their rooms. I believe there were approximately 30 people at that first meeting.
Forti: Well, there’s 30 meals that wouldn’t have been sold at Brewser’s two years ago, correct?
Jeremiah: Yes, exactly. That Sunday, they had their first ride, and it increased to 40 people who showed up. The second meeting took place in January, and they outgrew Brewser’s already, and had to move to the banquet room at the Wayside.
Heintzelman: So this group is forming because of the AOAA?
Jeremiah: This is going to be their home base. They’re also going to have a fundraiser for Geisinger’s Children’s Miracle Network. They already had the two coordinators for the telethon at their last meeting.
Heintzelman: There’s been some involvement from Geisinger, too, as far as the ATV safety course they conducted. They see this as a regulated, controlled, safer situation. ... To switch gears, TJ, what does the average guy spend on his Jeep that he races at your place in a year? What’s the value of that machine he brings to the race?
Lenig: Most guys probably have $5,000 to $6,000 into their machines. Because we’ve been getting a little bit bigger as well, we’ve had guys coming in with $100,000 machines, completely custom-built.
Heintzelman: How many members do you have?
Lenig: We currently have 750.
Heintzelman: From where to where?
Lenig: From Connecticut to North Carolina.
Heintzelman: When you have an event, how many show up?
Lenig: At our 40th anniversary race two years ago, we had 152 competitors. On our full weekend, we had close to 7,000 people.
Forti: Think if they only spend 10 bucks each. That’s 70-grand.
Heintzelman: And Tom and Jeff, what’s the average ATV outfit right now? If somebody comes and buys new and they get hats, goggles, gloves, pads?
Sebastian: I’d probably say $10,000 is a roundabout figure. You’re going to spend $5,000 to $7,000 on an ATV and then they buy accessories for it. It’s an ongoing thing, too. They’re going to need tires, sprockets and chains.
Forti: Some of the people who are riding quads and riding motorcycles, if you got some of the names of these people, you’d go, “They ride quads?” They’re looking for fun, and they’re looking for excitement. That’s what this park is: fun and excitement.
Sebastian: I think that’s a big misconception. The ATV rider is not the outlaw, redneck guy running around without a helmet. There are good people riding; there are families riding.
Heintzelman: Let’s bring all this optimism under control by talking to the state about whether we’re getting any money. In all seriousness, there are a couple different angles I wanted to throw out to you, Wes. From an ecological standpoint, there have been some things identified in the master plan that are a concern: bats in mineshafts that may be closed off, that kind of thing. Are any of these concerns going to be a major drawback?
Fahringer: No. Actually, we require every grantee to do a Pennsylvania Natural Diversity Inventory (PNDI) to see what kind of impacts there are on threatened, endangered species, whether they’re building a playground or whether they’re building an ATV park. It doesn’t kill a project. They go through a process to identify what is there and what the potential impacts are. At Rock Run (west of Altoona), they identified rattlesnake habitat during that PNDI research. That was not a problem. They built around that habitat.
Heintzelman: What’s an example of what might have to addressed here with the knowledge that’s been collected so far with the bats? I know the Timber Rattlesnake has been mentioned for the West Cameron area for the plan, too, and there’s the woodrat.
Fahringer: Animals are covered by the game commission. They would be the ones to determine what has to be done.
Heintzelman: Can you give a hypothetical if they determine the woodrat is in a certain area?
Fahringer: There’s a study process. Once they go through that process, they determine what they should and shouldn’t do.
Heintzelman: Kathy, have you had any direction yet of what you might have to do, if it would stop some part of the park from being developed?
Jeremiah: No. Right now, we’re waiting to receive some money from DCNR. We applied for that two weeks ago. They’re releasing some of the funds so we can do some of these studies.
Fahringer: These are habitat assessments that are required.
Sebastian: A gentleman wanted to mine 300 acres out in Zerbe Township. Because of the woodrat, I think he was only given permission to mine 50.
Mack: He was given permission to mine 50. That was part of what we talked about with the game commission most recently. There was work done by a Jeep club, miscommunication between the game commission and me. The mining happened very close to where the work happened. They believe the woodrat to be there. They need the studies.
Sebastian: The study’s going to have to be expanded.
Mack: Right. I talked to some of the folks at DCNR about what that meant to the project. With a woodrat — or with a bat, with anything — there are people who are experts who understand the way it moves, how it moves. Because we’re not talking about 100 acres, we’re talking about 6,500 acres, they said you can certainly work around it.
Fahringer: For the last four years, that information has not been known and the activity has still happened out there. Now, with the research being done, they’ll at least know what they can or can’t do. There is a benefit to that.
Mack: People have brought this up and what this project has become is a tourism destination. That’s what we’re here for. Whether it’s to bring tourists here to see woodrats, to see bats or to ride motorcycles, let’s do it. That’s what the goal is at the end of the day, to bring money into this region, to bring credit cards.
Fahringer: There are opportunities for many other types of outdoor pursuits, the riding, of course, but also equestrian, hiking, wildlife viewing, photography. Somebody might come with the intent to ride, but then they might like to do these things as well.
Mack: One thing I’ve heard from a rider’s standpoint, but also an outdoorsman standpoint, is our proximity to game lands. You’ve got all these game lands around here. I know guys who go to Kansas for a week, Colorado or Wyoming for a week. But now, they can come here for a week, and bring their wife and kids. When they go with their buddies out to Colorado, there’s nothing. If they come here, they’ve got Knoebels, they’ve got a place for their wife and kids to go. They can spend a couple of days here.
Heintzelman: Back to DCNR, when you guys released the $1.5 million late last year, Sen. (John) Gordner mentioned that DCNR, obviously, is really behind this project.
Fahringer: This is currently not affected by any budget discussions for fiscal year 2013 or 2014. These funds are all based on things that have happened last year or previous years. The funding is there; it’s coming. We can all breathe a sigh of relief.
Heintzelman: I’m sure the county hopes there’s another big payday like that. You’re hoping for more money, you need more money to fully develop this, right? What are the prospects down the road?
Fahringer: It’s hard to say from year to year. The recreation parks’ programming funding comes from a variety of sources. Some of it is federal, some of it is based on ATV licensing purchases. Some of it’s based on federal things involving gas purchases. Some is based on state realty transfer. They’re all tax-related. It all depends on how that goes, but we’re not going away.
Heintzelman: Can you put this in context of other projects that DCNR funds? On a larger scale, that’s a pretty big accomplishment to get $1.5 million. And the $400,000 you got earlier was from DCNR? There’s so much money in a project that doesn’t even officially exist.
Fahringer: I think that is important to recognize. It’s because we believe this project is a signature project. It’s a destination project that will have a regional impact economically and environmentally. We’re hoping it will be good for a lot of people. It will also be good for state lands, because it’s going to direct use to a regulated area, and perhaps redirect it from state forestry lands. That’s another reason we want to do that. Another thought is, to make this investment, we’re already seeing an outpouring of interest from many, many others who want to partner with these kind of things and enhance and encourage the sustainability of this. Grant funding is potentially available in the future.
Heintzelman: And it’s safe to say DCNR doesn’t hand out $1.5 million on a whim, especially in this day?
Fahringer: No, sir. That’s a fact. This project scored very highly in our grant-ranking criteria. We have a very competitive grant process. There are no assurances anyone will get anything. Projects are ranked and scored based on well-thought-out criteria that is evaluated and edited every year. This project ranked very competitively on a statewide level.
Heintzelman: I know you can’t speak for other agencies, state or otherwise, but what is the opportunity for this project to accelerate mine reclamation?
Fahringer: That is very exciting. It enhances the conservation credibility of this project. Along with developing and redirecting trail use, we, collectively, all us involved in the project, are reclaiming.
Mack: I think all government money is a competitive process. You have to show justifiably what you’re going to use it for. There are not many entitlement programs around anymore.
Fahringer: It’s very important that nobody’s entitled; it’s competitive. Also, this was a very smart use of ARAA funds and DCNR money to leverage other moneys, public and private, from other grant sources, state grants and federal grants. I’ve been involved with all three of the county’s applications for these grants and working with them throughout the last several years.
Mack: In line with the competitive process, Kathy pulled on all of us in the county and then outside resources. We had folks from the conservation district come in reading over our applications. What do you think? How do we brush this up? How do you help this? They were able to contribute.
Fahringer: I want to point out another very important thing. None of this would have been able to happen without the master site plan. The planning process is so much more than a written report and really good maps. A planning process that we helped fund involves exhaustive hours of stakeholder time and hours of talking to all interested people, public meetings, providing everybody an opportunity to express their opinions and ideas.
Heintzelman: Talk to us, Pat, about how the park will be managed. The master plan lists a few options, but a major concern, beyond whether locals will ride for free or at a discounted price, is “What is county government doing in an ATV business?”
Mack: It’s a concern, and we’ll go back to the planning process. I come from a business background. The initial model, meeting with Kathy and the commissioners when I took this job was, “Great, we take this land, we’ll lease it to some private entity, and we’ll just get a whole bunch of money, and I’ll be a genius.” The fact is, once you look at it, that was not the model at all. How will that help One Smart Cookie? How will that help a Tom Sebastian? Well, it probably won’t. Also, from the standpoint of having an outside manager, how does it affect the local ATV club or the Line Mountain Four-Wheelers having an event? Does the county belong in the restaurant business out there? No, that’s not the purpose of the project. The intent of the project is to benefit a local community. It has to be sustainable, so you have to have a fee. At the end of the day, it also has to benefit Tom Sebastian, One Smart Cookie, Mountainside and anyone else that wants to reap the rewards of that. So the management entity that called out is an authority. There is a lot of criticism of government authorities. Are we scared of it? Sure. I’ve had three previous commissioners and three new commissioners come to me and say, “How do you manage this thing? How do you keep control of this thing, make it sustainable, make it work, have it accountable and transparent?” In developing the bylaws, which is a process we’re developing right now, how do you make sure those controlled measures are in place? You need to see ahead to make sure whoever you put on there understands the business, understands the industry and understands the local project. An authority will run it, will manage it, but they need to be cognizant that county commissioners control the land, there’s a coal interest in that land, the state has given money and they have an interest in this land, and local business people are making decisions on the future of their business or parts of it through this project.
Heintzelman: Is it safe to say that if it wasn’t for the coal that’s underneath the ground, maybe the county would sell it and let it be private?
Mack: I think the land would have been sold long ago if the coal wasn’t there.
Heintzelman: That option (selling) is off the table because you do want to retain those rights, the surface and mineral rights, of that 6,500 acres?
Mack: That’s the reason we hold it. I don’t think a park or any other company could come in and give the money it’s worth.
Heintzelman: So, you’re not going to turn it over to somebody else to build this park because you want to hold the land. The other option is to hire a private management firm to come in and run it, but the fear there is they worry about their bottom line and not local interest?
Mack: Right. But no criticism, they have to make money.
Heintzelman: That leads you to an authority, with which you can control that local interest and make sure the One Smart Cookies and the Gap Racings and Mountainside Motorsports are helped.
Mack: Right. And there are buffers in place. If One Smart Cookie approaches the authority and says, “Look, you’re killing my business” and they say, “Who cares?,” you can go to your county commissioners. There are still control measures in place.
Heintzelman: And you would put together this authority with five, seven, nine members?
Mack: The bylaws aren’t written. I’ve heard five, I’ve heard seven, I’ve heard nine.
Heintzelman: And you would have a board meeting monthly?
Mack: I would think so.
Heintzelman: You would hire a manager or a couple of employees?
Mack: The business plan calls out for, I think, six. Initially there would be a manager there who is managing the business side and passes and all that, and growing with the project.
Heintzelman: And that would not be some random person? It would be an expert hopefully from the industry?
Mack: I think the master plan makes mention of that. That manager has to have an understanding in park, resource management, conservation. You’re looking for a dynamic individual, somebody who can not only talk at a DCNR level, or fish and game, or game commission, but also get in a backhoe and make sure the stream’s still in the channel after a flood. You’re calling for a unique individual. But these facilities are run by unique individuals.
Heintzelman: Are these people out there?
Forti: Oh yeah.
Heintzelman: Any other thoughts on the structure of management from you folks? Pat mentioned, it could have a bearing on your business. Does that satisfy you, an authority, does that scare you, too?
Marshall: No, it satisfies us. Definitely. We want to know.
Heintzelman: Sure, and it gives you someone to go to.
Sebastian: Exactly. As Pat touched on, if a private entity was running it, you could go out and squawk all you want and they’re going to say, “Too bad. This is our show.” If you have an authority and county government involved, you have some say or some input. The whole park’s going to be an evolving process. It’s new to everyone around here, it’s new to the county, and there’s going to be a learning curve.
Heintzelman: The other thing we want on the record here involves hunting. Commissioner Rich Shoch said he had discussed the notion of extending what’s in the master plan right now as far as the hunting season on AOAA land. Right now it would start the Saturday after Thanksgiving and go into mid-January, which covers most of the rifle season. Dave has expressed this before and this is what Rick was suggesting — it would be nice to have something in small game season, which starts in mid-October. Dave, from your standpoint, you have a new proposal? (Kaleta provides a letter.)
Kaleta: I’m not speaking for Rick here with what I’m saying in this letter. Statistics show hunting is one of the safest sports there is. Out of 100,000 people, eight, approximately, are injured a year; it’s 141 for fishing.
Heintzelman: How does that fit into the park? How does that matter?
Kaleta: My point is the hunting restrictions that are listed in the master plan are based on perception and not reality. People think guns and they get scared. I don’t think there should be any hunting restrictions on the park because of those statistics. Because of that perception, I am offering these guidelines to be offered in the park, that the park for motorized vehicles be closed for the three weeks encompassing bear rifle and two weeks of deer rifle.
Heintzelman: And that’s already in the plan?
Jeremiah: Yes, that’s in the plan.
Kaleta: Also, during the small game, archery, early doe, muzzleloader and turkey season, no center-fire rifles. Rick and I talked about that, and we thought that was a good thing. From my point of view, I don’t think it’s that limiting. On designated ATV and OHV trails, marked trails, I don’t think anybody should be able to walk on those trails with a loaded gun. Stay off the marked ATV or OHV trails. Because of the shooting, I think there should be a designated shooting range. There are people out there right now, I’m out there all the time. You hear gunfire constantly. There should be a designated shooting area. No target shooting anywhere else in the park. I’m sure you can get some volunteers to manage it and maintain that.
Forti: Is there a fee involved?
Jeremiah: We’re all about generating money, Bevo.
Kaleta: I’ll get to that. That’s my next point. Hunters should not be charged. The reason is, there’s already a state land-users act. If you charge a fee for hunters, you’re excluded from that law where you’re excluded from liability. Technically, you can be sued. But hunters getting hurt or injured on private property where there was no fee, the lawsuit was shut down.
Mack: Same as the Recreation Land Use Act.
Kaleta: Even if you charge a dollar, you’re excluded from that law. The second thing I recommend is for the land to be enrolled with the game commission. There are a lot of benefits to that.
Heintzelman: The Alaska site, am I right, is going to be hands-off? That’s going to be year-round hunting. How many acres is that?
Heintzelman: It’s a small portion of the acreage. As far as the rest of the land, is that all open to hunting now?
Mack: There are no posted regulations either way, so it’s open. If you don’t post it, it’s open. That’s my understanding from the game commission.
Kaleta: The game commission patrols it. I was told they won’t patrol land that’s not open for hunting.
Mack: I would say it’s open.
Heintzelman: Dave, how many guys are out there small game hunting on those other plots and other county acres?
Kaleta: I know for a fact, if it was cleaned up and regulated, and obviously, the more intense areas with the ATVs, the small game hunters would stay away from them. The areas that have the best small game habitats are the areas in green (on the master site plan). Those are the areas that are designated minimal use for motorized vehicles. Those are the areas that have the best small game hunting. Where this PNDI thing that comes into play, right along the south edge, just north of there is a rocky outcrop, that’s where these bats live and these woodrats live. I know a lot of guys from Fairview Gun Club; that’s their favorite deer hunting spot. These other places, the sands, I used to hunt that all the time; I don’t go near that anymore unless it’s zero degrees. There are just too many vehicles there.
Heintzelman: Some people have argued there are plenty of other state game lands in the county. What do you say to that?
Kaleta: There are all kinds of different habitats. Just like we’re saying with these woodrats and bats, there’s a specific habitat that’s got to be delineated and you stay away from those spots. You don’t want vehicles in there, you don’t want timber in there, you don’t want construction in there. Particularly where the mines have been reclaimed, the habitat that’s come in there — black locust, golden rod, blackberry — is just ideal small game habitat, and deer habitat, too. Thick, brushy areas. I had 126 woodcock flushes on county property this past year, which is phenomenal. Woodcock have, until recently, been a species of concern. It was just lifted from that. The population has stabilized. ... There was a $100 million dam they were going to build down in Tennessee Valley, and it was shut down because of a fish.
Heintzelman: Pat, from the county’s perspective on Dave’s concerns, it’s beautiful land up there, it is good hunting territory. I don’t know how many guys hunt woodcocks, but there are a lot of small game hunters, of course. Is there any consideration for extending the areas or the seasons at all?
Mack: The master plan references a revision of all policies. I think it even says that all policies should be reviewed once a year. Figure out what’s going on, figure out what your user base is, and adapt accordingly. That’s already called for in there. One thing I alluded to early on, this is a project about getting people in. I’ve had a conversation with Commissioner Shoch and a conversation with Dave and the game commission. If woodcock hunters want to come out in droves and have hunts ... (they are welcome).
Kaleta: It’s a double-edged sword for us as hunters. We’d like to get more people in to do business in the area. There’s only so much habitat and only so much game there. It’s a big area and that can be improved.
Heintzelman: During the small game season, hunters can co-exist. … But what about using the Alaska site?
Kaleta: The Alaska site is small. I personally don’t even hunt there. It’s not the habitat that’s farther west from there. The Alaska site is for rabbits; turkeys galore. You can go up there any day and see 50 to 100 turkeys.
Herb: It seems like the way the plan has been laid out, they’ve made a case for there being amendments to the whole process. If there’s a big enough complaint or concern, it can be addressed or altered, especially in this early stage. It all comes back to everybody trusting that it’s going to happen — should we invest in this, not only us as business people, but the community? I feel comfortable being a member of the community that we can address it and it won’t be something that’s just going to be walked all over us, where an individual or somebody with a lot of money could come in and do the same thing and not care.
Mack: There’s an obvious tourism destination base in hunting communities and equestrian communities and every community, and that’s something that needs to be weighed. If there’s a need, it needs to be addressed.
Herb: His concerns, or anybody with concerns about hunting, need to be addressed. … At Coal Hill, there’s been talk about knocking it down. Eventually, the mountain’s going to round off and there won’t be anymore good hill climbs. Eventually, those things die off, but we have at least 30 years of people knowing they can come ride here. We’re kind of idling off that and building it up to something’s that legitimate. If we can provide the community with options to make it so they can do it legally, everybody’s going to want in on that.
Kaleta: Bernie, you can answer this. Has AREA taken anyone off the mountain from a hunting accident?
Rumberger: Yes. We have. It’s few and far between. One was a shooting, two were cardiac arrest. And that’s in 22 years.
Heintzelman: That’s a concern from the county standpoint, the danger of hunting. It’s like the ATV perception.
Mack: It’s the same thing we had to cover with the ATVs.
Heintzelman: We got a guy coming with a $100,000 machine. I bet he’s not driving drunk. That’s the perception.
Forti: In Michigan, on the Parts Unlimited Ride, bear season is at the same time. So you can do both.
Sebastian: What are the biggest reasons for the opposition to the park? It just seems that the benefits so much outweigh what I’m hearing from opposition. Hunters are like, “Well, we can’t hunt anywhere we want year-round,” and that’s a concern. Other than that, it just seems like this park is so big as far as benefits go.
Kaleta: First I’ll speak for myself about hunting. We have totally unique habitat, totally, totally unique habitat.
Sebastian: You mean the entire park when you say this?
Kaleta: Mostly just the green areas. There are some areas that are extremely good. I stay away from those because of the sand pits.
Sebastian: Are they being hunted now? Are they being used?
Sebastian: By a large amount of people?
Sebastian: So there might be a dozen hunters in the county who might take away the chances for 10,000 (people)?
Kaleta: I have a bird dog trainer from Bloomsburg. In the fall, he was coming down twice a week. He would like to come down more, but he’s afraid. He’s a professional dog trainer with other people’s dogs, $5,000 dogs. He’s concerned about injuries to the dogs. The reason I got cleaning up dumpsites was because my dogs were getting cut.
Sebastian: I commend you for that.
Kaleta: Habitat for Wildlife would have never existed if I didn’t have dogs. I’d be up at Penns Creek fishing right now. That’s how this whole thing got started because my dogs were getting cut. You said other people’s concerns. I’m in a unique position. People think I’m against the park.
Sebastian: I have that conception.
Rumberger: So do I. It’s in the paper all the time.
Sebastian: I found it offensive, your letter to the editor. Every time you referenced ATV riders, you used the word “outlaw” in front of it. That’s not true.
Kaleta: That has to be distinguished. (It was about) people who are on marked property that says “no motorized vehicles.”
Sebastian: I got the conception that every ATV rider is an outlaw.
Kaleta: That whole letter was about the Alaska site.
Sebastian: Well, it came off wrong. There are good ATV riders. There are families who ride ATVs. There are ATV riders who clean up dumpsites.
Kaleta: There wouldn’t be a gate at Excelsior right now except for off-road vehicles, and I’ll call them outlaws, riding through freshly planted plots, running down tree seedlings.
Heintzelman: Wouldn’t the park help that situation, though, in terms of regulations and control?
Heintzelman: How many hunters use that land on a regular basis — the land that wouldn’t be accessible except for those couple weeks?
Kaleta: If you hunt one hour a year, you’re considered a hunter. I think it’s better to say how many days are hunted on that property, and I would say thousands. A guy could go out there one time. Rick Shoch hunted twice this year, and both times were up on that property.
Forti: I think what we’re here to discuss is the business of this, right? I have an 18-year-old son. If this park means he won’t have to move out of this area to find a job, I’m 100 percent behind it. How many people in this room have children, 18 years old, and they’re gone from this area? They’re gone. There’s no work, there’s no employment. That’s what this is about. Business. You can sit here all day and say this or that; this is all about creating jobs. People who live here, what do they have for entertainment? This is entertainment.
Heintzelman: For some people, entertainment is hunting.
Forti: No one’s saying it isn’t. Dave, you say you have a great habitat up there. We have a great habitat up there, too — for riding.
Heintzelman: What’s the larger value here?
Sebastian: I agree, they can co-exist. The question started with why are the opponents against the park. Why don’t they say, “Let’s co-exist?”
Kaleta: I’m in close contact with a group of people who are totally against it. Reason is, there’s a small fee to start with. Well, they can raise that any time. We’ve used that land all the time. It’s our land, not their land. We should decide.
Sebastian: “We want a place to dump our garbage.”
Forti: You can tell them the Oklahoma land rush was in the 1800s.
Sebastian: It would benefit the taxpayers.
Jeremiah: There’s 6,500 acres. We can co-exist. We can have something for everybody. Any outdoor recreationist, we can fit them in there. I have said this from the beginning of working with Pat on this project, I’ve told the steering committee, I’ve told numerous people — I equate this project to Sunday dinner at my house. I cannot please every single person at that table. Somebody’s not going to like something I serve that day. We have enough land that we can have something for every outdoor recreation enthusiast, not one group taking the whole 6,500 acres. We want to serve everybody, not only in our county, but throughout the East Coast. We know everybody’s going to come to it. Everybody wants to come to it. I have five pages of groups, which have hundreds of members and individuals, that have contacted Pat and I and they want to help in whatever way they can.
Heintzelman: What are examples? What are the groups?
Jeremiah: We have lawyers, we have doctors, we have the Finger Lakes 4x4 Club, we have Pennsylvania OHV, we have NOHVCC (National Off-Highway Vehicle Conservation Council), we have the Blue Ribbon Coalition, we have a trailer manufacturing company out of Georgia who contacted us. We have also partnered with Geisinger, as you said. We have also partnered with Bloomsburg University’s business department to start doing an economic impact study. Now we’re getting information from people like One Smart Cookie who want to cater for us this season. We’ve had people who have catered our events out there the last two seasons.
Heintzelman: There are a lot of elements already. Any final thoughts before we move off the hunting?
Kaleta: I’m basing this off a conversation I had with Pat a couple months before the first (public) meeting. I delineated six different areas. I prioritized them. One’s the highest priority. One, two, three, four, five, six, for habitat. When this map came out, I was thrilled, absolutely thrilled. We have one, three, four and two. They took my top four habitat areas and put them on the map. And then I read the comprehensive plan. The hunting thing set me back, the three-week hunting season.
Heintzelman: Of the six then in the master plan, what’s left of that?
Jeremiah: He had 3,500 acres of the 6,000 acres.
Kaleta: I don’t know. Counting the buffer areas, I’m sure it comes to 3,500 acres.
Heintzelman: What’s left of that is the Alaska site for the rifle season?
Mack: Right, we put some buffers in based on his map.
Kaleta: I didn’t put buffers in my map. They’re small; they’re marginal.
Mack: Generating our maps came from a wide array of input. He had one buffer around the stream. SCRA came in about the stream, and we had a meeting with DCNR folks about what the effect would be. Obviously, when everybody comes up with a priority and lines, you want to keep that.
Jeremiah: One thing a lot of people don’t know is that a lot of planning goes into all of this. Since last year, I have been working on a disabled hunting program. I would love to have your input (Dave), to sit down in my office and have input from people who know. I had a call from a pediatric doctor out of Geisinger, and we’re dealing with another project we’re working on with Geisinger, like the bike rodeos the Coal Township Police have. They give out bike helmets, and we’re looking at giving out ATV helmets to the children. He had mentioned to me that they get contacted from Make a Wish Foundation where some boys, their wish is go to on a hunting trip, and would we sponsor that at AOAA. We would be thrilled to do that.
Heintzelman: One other industry that I’ve heard is very interested in this is the equestrian folks. Tell us a little about their possible involvement.
Jeremiah: We had a person from Danville who represented the equestrian side of this on our 16-member steering committee. From the very beginning of this planning process, we had input from the equestrian people. I have also been in touch with the Pennsylvania Equine Council. They will be coming up here and doing a one-day workshop. Part of the grant we’re getting from DCNR is detailing our non-motorized trail heads for the equestrians. It also includes campgrounds for the equestrians. They can have their horses there with them. We need a lot of volunteers from that community to help develop this area.
Heintzelman: That’s an interesting dynamic of horses and ATVs, along the lines of can you co-exist with hunting and ATVs. Most people would think, “You’re going to have horses?” and not far over in the woods, there’s going to be five ATVs ripping by.
Jeremiah: I learned that the horses are actually used to hearing the engines of the motorized vehicles, where they aren’t for mountain bikes. A horse won’t hear a mountain bike coming up on them, and they’ll get spooked.
Sebastian: I’m actually a horse person, too. Motorcycles and ATVs really don’t bother them. The only thing is if someone comes up behind them and spooks them. They get startled easily.
Herb: If you start suddenly or something.
Sebastian: If you have a horse and an ATV is going by 100 yards away, that wouldn’t bother them.
Heintzelman: How much of a community is out there in terms of the equestrians? And how close is it to us? And how many people do you envision coming to the park based on that attraction?
Jeremiah: There are a lot out there, and they are looking for a place to ride. They actually have riding clubs. There’s one based in Bloomsburg. There’s one over in Danville. At our public meetings, there was at least a dozen of them.
Fahringer: There’s another group who will travel.
Rumberger: You ever see their trailers? They’re pretty nice.
Sebastian: It goes back to the destination thing, too. You can have a lot of things going on here.
Fahringer: The PA Equine Council does very good trail work. They’ve even funded them in the past. They’ve done great volunteer training.
Heintzelman: If you have a horse and a trailer, that’s along the lines, or maybe even a little higher, in terms of economy than ATV riders. It’s not cheap to keep horses and to transport them.
Forti: A kid in Elysburg probably has a $100,000 horse.
Heintzelman: Feeding and getting that horse around probably means you have a few bucks to travel down to Shamokin to ride the trails.
Mack: I own a Jeep. I don’t know many people pulling around their horses with a Jeep. They’re in a different class; they really are. And they spend a lot of money and their horse is not an animal to them. It’s like all of us with dogs. If you’re a horse person, that is a child, that is a member of the family.
Herb: I was on vacation to Ricketts Glenn two years ago. We were looking around for a place to ride horses. It was $350 for five people for two hours. I’m still happy with it. Two years later, I still have memories. If you can provide that for people, they’ll come.
Heintzelman: We will wrap up here in the next few minutes. If there’s something we didn’t touch on that’s on somebody’s mind, now is the time.
Fahringer: All this starts with planning. The planning is a process that’s not easy. There have been some very hard discussions that have happened here. They’re very honest, very candid discussions, and they’re going to continue. That’s an important thing that happens, because it builds a consensus, and it gets a project that will cater to the needs of all interested stakeholders. I don’t mind these tense discussions; I don’t mind that they happen or have happened. They’re candid and they’re important. I applaud the people here who have handled themselves with dignity and respect for one another over the last four years, five years. It’s not easy, but it’s necessary.
Mack: One final thought I had, and it goes back to what Wes said. These folks who were involved from Kathy to Barry (Yorwarth) to Wes Fahringer to Dave Kaleta, the people in this room who gave input, Tom Sebastian who has come to my office several times, that was all volunteer. It’s important to know that this was a group that was assembled voluntarily. Sometimes emotion gets the best of folks, but this is all volunteer about something they’re passionate about. I was certainly impressed with this discussion and many others at how professional it remained. I think it’s important that this area has such passionate people. I think it comes down to what Bevo said; he’s got an 18-year-old son. I don’t have kids, but someday I hope to. I don’t want them to have to leave home for a job, for economics. That’s what this really boils down to.
Forti: It’s an economic seed we’re planting in this area. This is our project; we don’t have to go out and ask some manufacturer to come to our area tax-free; we’ll give them every stinking benefit we can just to come to our area. This is our park. We can run it and our local people will benefit from it. And that’s what it’s all about. If there needs to be a little hunting area, let there be a hunting area. If there has to be horseback riding, let there be horseback riding. The main issue here is it’s an economical seed that we need to plant in our county, or you might as well kiss it good-bye. You can’t let opportunities pass in this area.
Heintzelman: Pat had told me when he first got the job with the county, before this project was too far along, he looked at them and said, “You guys are crazy. What are you doing?”
Mack: I thought they were nuts. I looked at Kathy and said, “This is our big project? No, no, no, no.” I had the wrong impression.
Heintzelman: What has changed your mind?
Mack: Meeting the people involved. Meeting the people that Bevo knows, that Tom knows, the people everybody deals with. The first couple rides I went to meet these people, I was shocked. These are professional folks, top notch; they want to be welcomed just like we would a major company who wants all these tax breaks. But these people want to pay, which is something I thought was neat. You meet them one time and you’re sold.
Heintzelman: Tourism is the overall tag you put on it, but this is very broad, more so than people think. There is off-road, ATV, equestrian, hunting.
Mack: Destination. It’s what it is. Destination.
Forti: There’s also mountain bike trails. And that’s the fastest growing sport in America right now. The guy I worked for, Scott Mountain Bikes, their business is doubling every year.
Heintzelman: Another thing, there’s an opportunity for people to come and, like Ricketts Glen where you rented a horse, you can rent an ATV, you can possibly rent a Jeep and you can ride a horse?
Herb: We’re looking into it. A lot of people are looking into it. There’s a lot of liability issues. There’s a lot to take into consideration. ... If I can add, the seeds are already planted. Now to properly nurture it with water and sunlight, we need to get these people registering their vehicles so we can get the funding there. My concern is finding a path for the people to follow so they can get themselves legal. That’s what they want. There’s a business there. You can probably charge people and they’d be willing to pay if you can just find the path to make the state happy.
Marshall: To be honest, there’s nothing in this area. People don’t have money. Like you said with the kids, I have two children. I tell them there’s nothing here right now. They have to move away. What’s here? We have this opportunity and we have to take it.
Jeremiah Pat and I have said this numerous, numerous times, if anybody has any questions, please call us at the planning department; we are always there and available.
Heintzelman: Thank you all very much. I think it was a worthwhile discussion. We’re proud to host this and communicate this information to our readers.