BURNSIDE - Attendance was lower than expected at a trail ride held Saturday at the Anthracite Outdoor Adventure Area (AOAA) to benefit first responders in Shamokin and Coal and Zerbe townships, event organizers said.

Anthracite Trail Riders (ATR), a local ATV (all-terrain vehicle) organization, was asked by the AOAA authority to organize an event to offset some of the cost of emergency apparatus and equipment needed to respond to the mountainous areas when incidents occur. ATR, formed in July 2013, has 415 members.

Mary Ellen Dilliplane, ATR treasurer, said 154 drivers, 23 passengers and 17 children registered for the event. Hopes were that several hundred people would attend the inaugural event.

"It's a little lower than we thought," Dilliplane said. "Heavy rain in New Jersey and New York may have lowered attendance."

Dilliplane said about three-fourths of the riders were from neighboring states. ATVs, UTVs (utility terrain vehicles), dirt bikes and full-size vehicles were permitted to ride marked trails on either side of Route 125 south of Burnside. Organizers accepted donations of $20 per driver, $20 per passenger and $10 for anyone 12 years and younger. Proceeds will be divided equally in donations to the three municipalities.

Amusement tax

Paying for emergency responders at the AOAA has been an area of concern for some Coal Township elected officials. Commissioners Craig Fetterman, Paul Leshinskie and George Zalar voted earlier this month to direct Solicitor Vincent Rovito to draft a proposed amendment to the amusement tax ordinance that would tax the AOAA. Commissioners Gene Welsh and Bernie Rumberger were opposed.

Leshinskie previously said he believes a tax on the AOAA would ease the fiscal burden of township residents for the potential costs for emergency services at the AOAA.

Reading Anthracite has sold permits to off-roaders to ride on its privately owned land for several years. Coal Township considered taxing the company before a compromise was reached. Reading Anthracite will now donate $5,000 annually over five years. The first donation was made in September.

Jim Backes, chairman of the AOAA Authority, asked the commissioners for time to get the park up and running before finalizing any tax on the AOAA. He said after this season and next season, the authority will have established a fiscal history to base estimated revenues and expenses, including potential donations to Coal Township and other municipal entities.

AOAA opening

The park opens for business to the public Saturday,May 17. The park hours are 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. that day and 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sunday, May 18. It has not been decided yet if riders will be allowed on both side of the park. The opening will be limited to motorized recreation.

Backes said 80 intersections on the eastern reserve are marked by odd numbers, while the western reserve will eventually be marked with even numbers, in anticipation of the opening. Higher numbers will correspond to trails farther away from the trail head. Maps measuring 8-by-14 inches will be distributed to riders.

A ribbon-cutting, expected to be attended by authority members, a Jeep club and dignitaries, will be held May 16.