by justin strawser

COAL TOWNSHIP - Something happens when Shawn Fenstermacher rides his ATV through trails such as the ones at the proposed Anthracite Outdoor Adventure Area (AOAA) Sunday morning.

"It's nice to get away and travel to new places. It's just you and the 4-wheeler. It's like there's nothing else," the 19-year-old Schnecksville man said next to his Yamaha Banshee 350 twin.

He and his parents and sister were out Sunday as part of the benefit ride for the Geisinger Children's Miracle Network (CMN).

Although he's been riding four years, mostly on Reading Anthracite property, this is his first time on the county land, and he said he looks forward to the park's official opening.

"Trying to find somewhere to ride is hard. It will be nice to know exactly where to ride, so we can feel welcome, so people don't look at us like 'you're a 4-wheeler, you shouldn't be here,'" he said.

The ride was sponsored by the Anthracite Trail Riders, a local ATV club that formed last year, and the AOAA, which is being developed on 6,500 acres of Northumberland County-owned land in Coal, East Cameron, Mount Carmel, West Cameron and Zerbe townships. The land was open to all sorts of off-road enthusiasts, including people with all-terrain and utility vehicles, dirt bikes and recreational vehicles.

The event brought in 245 participants. Registration fees were $15 for operators and $10 for passengers, and all proceeds benefit children at Janet Weis Children's Hospital, Geisinger Wyoming Valley and more than 40 medical groups and outreach clinics.

The ride was nearly 25 miles total through trails filled with rocks and deep mud puddles, and offered an easier paths for beginners and a more advanced path for experienced riders.

"We want to promote this park and raise money for the network. It's a good opportunity to show the park off and show the positive influence it can have on the area," Matt Schiccitano, president of the Anthracite Trail Rides, said.

Local vendors, businesses and organizations benefited as well, Schiccitano said.

Friendship Fire and Hose, One Smart Cookie Anthracite Trail Riders were on site to offer food, Forest Hill Fire Company offered ATV washes and Gap Racing, of Locust Gap, and Randy Schreffler's Equipment, of Pitman, and Valley Ag and Turf, of Watsontown, and Advanced Machining Services, of Mount Carmel, had display booths.

It was the first benefit of its kind for the miracle network, and it was right up her alley for off-highway vehicle enthusiast Cally Kailie, assistant coordinator for Janet Weis Children's Hospital.

"It's a great turn out. We can only build from this. It's a great thing and a great family activity," she said.

She said they provided a $7,500 grant for a safety program in relation to the park, which would provide helmets and goggles for riders.

"We want to promote safety. We want to make sure people are wearing helmets and eye protection," Kallie said.

All participants were required to wear a securely fastened helmet with eye protection, proper clothing and foot attire during the trail ride. Safety restraints in a side-by-side had to be securely fastened and young riders had to be under the supervision of a parent or guardian. People under the age of 16 were not permitted to operate an ATV unless they had completed an ATV safety training course, and no one under the age of 12 was allowed operate a machine.

Furthermore, Kailie said, the proposed park is an attraction that will be a "great boost for the area."

Kathy Jeremiah, planning department grants manager for Northumberland County, said the ride was fantastic.

"We thought everything went very well. There was a lot of positive feedback from the riders. Everyone had a great time. Everything went smoothly," she said later Sunday afternoon.

The only downside was the dreary weather, which she said kept their number of participants down.

The benefit ride committee and the hospital coordinators will be meeting again in two weeks to decide on a date for next year and determine the final amount of money raised from the event.