BURNSIDE - More than two dozen people gathered in protest Sunday at the proposed Anthracite Outdoor Adventure Area.

Their reasons for opposition of the county's development of the recreation area varied, citing restricted access for locals, potential impact on county taxpayers and questionable stewardship of the land, among them.

They were, however, unified in working to raise awareness that opposition exists, regardless of how low-key their efforts were.

Dave Kaleta is a longtime local conservationist who was barred from the county-owned AOAA site earlier this month and organized Sunday's protest.

He believes the banishment came about because he has questioned the environmental impact the area's development has had on the 6,500-acre property.

In a letter from Chairman Vinny Clausi and Commissioner Steve Bridy, he was warned of arrest if he was found using the AOAA for personal recreation. He didn't expect that to happen Sunday.

"The police were here today and they just told me to keep the peace, don't block traffic," he said.

Kaleta said many in the county believe that he fully opposes the park's creation. That is a misconception, he said. "I'm for a park that all citizens can enjoy that's done in an environmentally sensitive manner," he said.

That means completing environmental studies before cutting any trails, he said, and allowing hunting for the primary game season from October through February, instead of just a few weeks out of the year.

Protesters concerns

While he was happy with the turnout to Sunday's protest, Kaleta acknowledged that the opposition to the park is larger than the two dozen people who showed up.

Many people believe they don't have a voice, he said, and figure it's futile to raise questions. But he believes county leaders are listening to citizen concerns; whether or not they're considering opposing viewpoints is another matter.

"Citizens are pretty disgusted with what's going on in the county office on multiple levels, not just the AOAA but the total disrespect some of the commissioners have for others," Kaleta said.

Some of those who did turn out Sunday had plenty to say.

Mike Straub, of Trevorton Road in Coal Township, pointed to some trails marked with red ribbons that appear newly created. He said their creation was done with no professional input on environmental impact and he fears the spread of such trails will ruin hunting and habitat for wildlife.

The development is a good idea, he said, but it must be done "responsibly" and have access, not simply lip service, to people with interests outside of off-roading.

Cliff Garner, of Bear Valley Road in Coal Township, cited the City of Shamokin's concerns about potential impact and increases in indirect costs to city taxpayers, and he opposes any fee paid charged to county residents.

"To charge the residents a fee, in my opinion that's double taxation. They should offer to the residents free (access) if this comes into full fruition," he said.

There's plenty of off-road traffic in the land behind his home, even from the locals only, he said. He believes there's not enough resources to police the land now. If extra manpower on a police force is necessary, that cost will be a burden of township taxpayers, he said.

"I'm already impacted by what exists let alone the potential and greater existence that's gonna happen," Garner said, adding that he believes the county should end its plans for the AOAA.

Bill Knapick, of Coal Township, questions how the county obtained the land to begin with, wondering if it has legal rights to the property. He also believes forest land was intentionally destroyed by people who use the AOAA in defiance of state law.

"My biggest concern is do they have legal entitlement to the property," he said.

Darlene Zurick lives in Burnside near the AOAA. Access, to her, is an utmost concern.

"We've been riding up here for years and now all of a sudden they want us to pay," she said.

Another major concern of hers is her belief that out-of-towners don't respect the mountain.

She would have liked to see greater participation at Sunday's protest.

"There's so many people that are against it but they're afraid to come forward," Zurick said.

Busy week

There are two fundraising off-road events scheduled for the next two weekends, but there were no scheduled events there Sunday. Kaleta said he organized the protest on the off weekend so it wouldn't infringe on the benefit rides.

"We didn't want any impact negatively on them, and it would have made us look bad too," he said.

But the timing isn't all bad, he said.

There's a county commissioners meeting scheduled for today, and it's believed there will be discussion on Kaleta's banishment from the AOAA land.

On Tuesday, a hearing will be held in county court as Kaleta seeks a preliminary injunction to reverse the county commissioners' decision.

The injunction stems from a lawsuit alleging the county, Clausi and Bridy violated the Sunshine Act and committed First Amendment retaliation in denying his request for a waiver that would allow him to enter the county-owned property.

On Thursday, Kaleta said Shoch is scheduled to host a town hall meeting at 7 p.m. at Shamokin Emergency Rescue Squad headquarters inside the rear of the Mill Road Square Complex, 511 N. Franklin St., Shamokin.