Coal Hill goes quiet after illegal riding crackdown in Zerbe Township
TREVORTON - Empty hills and empty roads have translated to empty coffers for Trevorton businesses.
A series of crackdowns on the illegal off-road riding taking place on Reading Anthracite Company's property located in Zerbe Township is proving detrimental to Trevorton businesses who have come to rely on out-of-town ATV riders.
"Our sales went down probably 85 percent," Debbie Shingara, owner of Mountainside Motorsports, said Saturday.
Located nearly adjacent to a piece of Reading property known as Coal Hill, Shingara said riders would visit her store for parts and repairs when their vehicles broke down.
With riders scarce, she said, she has few customers.
"We lost our out-of-staters; we lost everybody," said Shingara.
Angela Wilkinson, owner of Angie's Market, declined to comment on the issue Saturday, but confirmed that her business has been slower since the crackdowns began.
Sonya Lebo, co-owner of Dals Pizza, estimated her business has dropped by about 50 percent since the first crackdown occurred at the end of May.
"In the summer, a lot of local people leave the area to go on vacation," said Lebo. "A lot of our business does come in from out of town."
Lebo was one of more than two dozen residents and small business owners who turned up at the Zerbe Township meeting Monday night to voice concerns on how the attempt to stem illegal riding has caused a downturn in customers.
Jason Wolfe, owner of Hannah's Restaurant, said business has always been "hit or miss," and the recent crackdowns has not greatly affected him, but he attended the township meeting to support the other town businesses because he does not agree with how the situation has been handled.
An AOAA connection?
Speaking separately, Wolfe, Lebo and Shingara all said that they believed supervisor Mike Schwartz's seat on the Anthracite Outdoor Adventure Area (AOAA) authority has led him to push Reading into the crackdowns so riders will have to visit the new park.
"They're trying to direct people to the AOAA," said Shingara.
"The signs got posted almost to the day the AOAA was opened," said Lebo.
"It's a conflict of interest," said Wolfe.
Schwartz categorically denied staging the crackdowns for the purpose of driving riders to the AOAA. He said the timing was coincidental, and he and the other supervisors have been asking Reading to do something about their property for years because of complaints made at township meetings.
He said the arrival of Rich Morgan as security manager for Reading has enabled them to facilitate the crackdowns.
"I think Rich is willing to work with us," said Schwartz. "He understands where our problems are and is trying to initiate the cleanups."
Calls coming in
A sign that Morgan has been more receptive to Trevorton's illegal riding issues is the approval by Reading for sales of its passes at Mountainside Motorsports.
Previously, riders could only purchase passes directly through Reading online or in-person at Reading's headquarters in Pottsville.
"It's helping (Reading), and it's also helping us," said Shingara.
As of Saturday, 21 passes to Reading's property have been sold, said Shingara, with many calls coming in from interested parties.
"People are just finding out about us," said Dustin Ulrich, an employee at Mountainside Motorsports.
Shingara said that while most riders have been OK with paying to purchase Reading's passes, she has had to turn away numerous potential customers because they could not or did not want to buy a state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR) tag, which is required by Reading.
Similar to automobile registration tags, DCNR tags can only be issued for ATVs with proven ownership.
Proceeds from tag purchases are used in grant funding for off-roading projects statewide, including at the AOAA.
Buyers of secondhand ATVs, especially from third party websites like Craigslist, do not always receive titles that prove the transfer of legal ownership of the ATV.
"It's hard to get titles," said Ulrich.
Without receiving a title, a purchaser cannot prove the ATV was not stolen.
Pennsylvania State Police Auto Theft Task Force has been present at the crackdowns to check tags.
Schwartz said the AOAA also requires DCNR tags and this has not been an issue.
The business owners in Trevorton were all in agreement that they supported a transition to legal ridership.
"I don't have a problem with them trying to enforce making it legal," said Wolfe.
He said that in the past he's seen near-miss accidents caused by ATVs driving on the road, which is illegal, and had the stones in his parking lot thrown by riders careening through on ATVs.
Lebo agreed that ending the illegal riding is acceptable, but she would like a solution that more directly benefits the town.
"Zerbe Township could have sold the permits and instead they started this little tiff with Reading," said Lebo.