For local enthusiast, state planner, AOAA was 16 years in the making
BURNSIDE - For many in the public, the work to develop an outdoor recreational area off Route 125 in Coal Township has gone on for about five years.
To Barry Yorwarth, it's been much longer - 16 years.
An off-road enthusiast, Yorwarth said he knew how popular off-road riding was on the abandoned coal lands of eastern Northumberland County, but he and others who enjoy the sport wanted a legal place to ride.
He had the idea for what would become the Anthracite Outdoor Adventure Area (AOAA), and that's about it. He needed land, and he needed money.
A connection with the state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR) would prove fruitful for funding. Vanyla Tierney, a state recreation planner, told Yorwarth that DCNR struggled to find recipients of grant funding for motorized activity. It wasn't difficult to fund non-motorized or joint-use areas, but projects for motorized use were hard to come by.
That inspired Yorwarth, and he had the perfect place in mind - the county's abandoned coal land that stretches across five township borders. But the county administration back in 1998 didn't see it that way. He said he wasn't given enough time back then to even have his idea rejected; it simply wasn't considered.
But Yorwarth pressed on, and he stayed in contact with Tierney.
The plan gained traction when then-county Commissioner Kurt Masser bought in.
His fellow commissioners at the time, Vinny Clausi, now chairman, and Frank Sawicki did, too. The plan took flight.
Outside of land acquisitions, Tierney called the state's investment in the AOAA the largest development project of its kind. She said she expects it to be extremely successful.
There are more than 300,000 people with vehicles registered for off-road use, one of the indicators that projects like the AOAA are worthy of government support, she said. Money from those registrations is part of what goes to facilities such as the AOAA to fund development.
Tierney and Yorwarth met up again Friday at the grand opening ceremony and reflected on their long road together.
"It's been well worth it," Tierney said of the combined efforts to get the park open. "Today's the culmination."
And Yorwarth said what has been created is far beyond even his best expectations of 16 years ago.