by justin strawser

SHAMOKIN - Northumberland County requested $3.5 million in grant funding for its off-highway vehicle park and learned a few weeks ago it's only getting $400,000 this year from the state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR).

With that, DCNR Secretary John Quigley's advice to the county in delivering the 400-grand on Thursday is notable: "Get creative" with funding streams, he said.

"Don't be dependent on one source," Quigley advised the county commissioners during a check presentation for the Anthracite Outdoor Adventure Area (AOAA). Because of rain, the brief ceremony, which was scheduled for the site of the proposed AOAA trailhead off Route 125 on the Burnside Mountain south of Shamokin, was moved to the CareerLink Building.

The $400,000 comes from state snowmobile and ATV funds. The largest source of potential funding would have been from Growing Greener II; however, the state has not renewed that fund, which will be depleted by next year.

Meanwhile, additional funding could come from state grants involving recreational trails or federal grants involving mine reclamation. Quigley used an example from the county, which plans to use the roads now being used to fill in mine pits as trails in the off-highway vehicle park.

"That's creative," he said.

More money to come?

Meanwhile, Quigley said while DCNR is committed, its funding has been slashed significantly in recent budgets. Furthermore, a new administration is on its way in with Tom Corbett's election as governor on Tuesday, and it is unknown what projects will be supported.

Quigley, though, expects the check to be the first of many.

"The state needs to continue to invest," he said.

As envisioned, he said, "the park will provide a great outdoor experience to riders, a message about environmental stewardship and care of our resources, and is a great example of the treatment and reuse of abandoned mine lands."

The project has tremendous potential, he said.

"(It) will create new economic activity, including business development and employment, and foster tourism in the lower anthracite region and throughout the county," he said.

It is also an opportunity for DCNR to reclaim blighted property, he said.

Clausi: Slow down

Northumberland County Planning Commission Director Pat Mack isn't worried about the slow start with funding.

"It's not going to be tomorrow," he said of the project.

The planning commission must meet with the county commissioners to discuss the direction of the project and make sure the county is on the right trail. The commissioners must also discuss the issue with state officials to make sure they have commitment from the state before moving forward, he said.

While Commissioner Vinny Clausi said he supports the project and wants it to move forward, he expressed his desire at the check presentation to slow the process down. "As a businessman, I know want it takes," he said of funding large projects. "It's just moving too fast. We need to slow down and make sure we're on the right path."

Commissioner Frank Sawicki said the project is a priority.

"We're not fooling around," he said.

The park is proposed on 6,000 acres of county-owned land in Zerbe, Coal, West Cameron, East Cameron and Mount Carmel townships. The proposed plan offers opportunities for all types of motorized and non-motorized vehicle use and will encompass 35 parcels of county-owned land.

Reaction to the proposal has been split. Some see it as a good economic development project that will also bring control to unregulated ATV riding in the mountainous areas. Others say what they have done for years in off-roading for free they'll now have to pay for, and hunters have complained that they will face restrictions, too, on the county property.