Hunting on hold at Northumberland County AOAA park
SUNBURY - Because Northumberland County's proposed Anthracite Outdoor Adventure Area (AOAA) is not yet formally operating, there was no plan to restrict hunting on the property for the 2012-13 season, which begins Saturday with archery deer season.
It would have been "business as usual," with full access - no waiver needed - to the 6,500 acres, Pat Mack, director of the county planning and industrial development department, said Wednesday.
Recent developments regarding public access and the discovery of a spiked board on the property in late August, however, have put everything on hold, he said.
Mack said if a hunter were to call him and ask whether he can access the property starting Saturday, his answer would have to be no.
"Not to say we're ever going to fully know (what else is out there), but we need to get out and look around," he said in reference to safety concerns.
'As soon as we know'
In addition to ensuring public safety, Mack said he will consult with the commissioners and solicitor and, as soon as they feel comfortable in knowing the county's legal standing on these recent issues, information on hunting access will be released. But he couldn't guess on a time frame.
"We'll get something out as soon as we know anything," he said. Noting he understands there are hunting enthusiasts wanting to use the land, he added, "We need some clarity."
The county was sued last week by David F. Kaleta, of Shamokin, after he received a letter signed by Mack that said the county wouldn't grant his request for a waiver and that he would be prosecuted if found on the land. Kaleta said the decision was made in violation of the Sunshine Act and that he is the victim of First Amendment retaliation because he has been critical of the AOAA plans, including how much land and time would be dedicated to hunting.
The master plan calls for the 343-acre "Alaska site" near Excelsior to be open year-round and the remaining portion of the property to be open from the Saturday after Thanksgiving until mid-January, essentially the rifled bear and deer seasons. Mack said Wednesday that is still the plan once the AOAA is formally operating. The park, which covers portions of Coal, East Cameron, Mount Carmel, West Cameron and Zerbe townships, will focus on off-highway vehicle use, but will also have trails for hiking and equestrian use.
He said hunters will not be charged to hunt on the property, which includes abandoned coal lands and forest.
Mack said the county had put up two concrete-based no-trespassing signs prior to the visit by Jeep Jamboree USA this summer. One was gone in a day, and he has been told the other one has been taken, too.
With that, and considering it would require many more signs to cover the entire property, the county would have a tough time enforcing no-trespassing at this point. But the recent controversy and discovery of the "booby trap" lead him to suggest people should not be on the land.
When hunting does reopen on the property, he said Pennsylvania Game Commission employees will continue to patrol the land as they do on any other property where hunting occurs.
"Hunting was a very controversial issue when developing the master plan," Mack said. "Ultimately, we tried to cover the most seasons as possible, but we will review the plan yearly to make sure it still works."
Despite criticisms of the master plan as it pertains to hunting, Mack said small game groups, such as woodcock hunters, are welcome. In fact, he said he hopes the AOAA becomes a tourism destination for hunters, as well as equestrians. He said plans also are being discussed to develop a hunting program for disabled veterans.
Mack and Kathy Jeremiah, grants manager in his department, have said they believe various interests can co-exist on the property.
Kaleta, who organized a protest Sunday at the entrance to the AOAA, has said the county has not devoted enough land or time for hunting, especially considering so many local residents used the property for that purpose for decades.
Kaleta has scheduled a "town hall meeting" pertaining to the AOAA for 7 p.m. today at Shamokin Emergency Squad behind the city police station, 511 N. Franklin St. The meeting was organized by Northumberland County Commissioner Richard Shoch, who will speak and address citizen questions.
Shoch also is scheduled to address safety concerns in light of the discovery of the 41-inch long spiked board.