BURNSIDE - Hundreds of people showed up this weekend for the first timed races held at the county's proposed off-road vehicle park.

While officials of Valley Forge Trail Riders, host of the Anthracite Hare Scramble, didn't have an exact number of attendees Sunday afternoon, a simple once-over of the parking areas proved the popularity of the event.

There were more than 400 racers registered to compete at the Anthracite Outdoor Adventure Area (AOAA), at least that many on-lookers and hundreds of passenger vehicles and campers.

Vinny Clausi, Northumberland County commissioner, said Sunday that events like the scramble are vital to any economic growth in the area.

Clausi said attempts to lure industries to put down roots in lower Northumberland County have failed mainly because of the distance between the Shamokin and Mount Carmel areas and the nearest interstates.

"This park is the best thing in the county," he said. "The only chance to grow the economy is through ATVs (all-terrain vehicles).

"I hope and pray that the people support this project because I'm gonna support it," he said.

Dozens upon dozens of campers were parked on the county-owned land alongside cars, pickup trucks and trailers hauling quads and motorcycles.

One staff member estimated at least 300 vehicles had driven into the parking area of AOAA this weekend.

There were a total of 425 riders registered for the weekend races - 83 motorbikes and 31 quads Saturday and 245 motorbikes and 76 quads Sunday - traveling from other parts of Pennsylvania and throughout the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic. The total figure came an hour-and-a-half before the final race began, for which officials expected more participants in the quad race to show up.

AOAA remains in the planning stages despite the scramble and other recent public and private events, and there remains opposition among some locals for a variety of reasons - restricted access and environmental standards among them.

2 stars

Two county residents who have made careers out of racing motocross were on hand Sunday and said they'd be riding the course for the first time.

Traci Cecco, of Shamokin, is a seven-time Grand National Cross Country (GNCC) women's champion. Chris Borich, of Sunbury, won the GNCC XC1 Pro Class three years running.

State Rep. Kurt Masser, R-107, sought Cecco's opinion of AOAA. She told him she liked that the park would bring safety to a set of designated trails, saying in the past there were trails on the land where "you don't know what's around the next corner."

Borich was happy with just how close to home the park could be.

"It's pretty sweet; pretty cool. It's only 10 minutes from my house," he told Pat Mack, county planning director.

"We're hoping this is just the start," Mack replied. "We want it to get bigger."

Borich had not driven the AOAA before Sunday but had walked portions of it. He said the landscape looks close to what he's driven on the national level.

"There's plenty of woods out there to make a good loop," he said.

'Great start'

Masser was on hand to wave the green flag at the start of Sunday's main event, in which 134 racers competed, taking off in one-minute intervals.

Masser and Clausi worked together to launch plans for AOAA when Masser was also a county commissioner.

Calling the scramble a "great start," Masser said, "It's so important that we show the local area what this track can do," alluding to hopes of a positive economic impact, especially for the service sector.

Masser said he drove past the park on Route 125 on his way home from Harrisburg and was impressed by the sight of vehicles parked all along the edge of AOAA.

After years of looking at the reclaimed coal land and trying to envision what the park could become, he was pleased to see it being used.

"Economic development is so desperately needed," he said.

Just how great an impact the weekend races had on the local economy remains to be seen.

Pat Mack, planning director for Northumberland County, said one convenience store reported their sales were up as a direct result of the event, and that it had sold out of ice.

Rick Kivela, president of Valley Forge Trail Riders, noted his group had spent more than $3,000 renting equipment locally - anything from lawn mowers and skid steers to portable bathroom facilities.

Mack said there were concerns that high temperatures - weather.com reported Coal Township's high of 92 degrees Fahrenheit - would keep the event from happening.

Apart from a handful of injuries to riders - one rider suffered a broken leg and another exacerbated a previous wrist injury - there were no other medical emergencies, he said, noting that the riders' injuries are not uncommon in the sport of motocross.

Mack did say that Coal Township Police had responded Sunday to a report of underage drinking near the track which he believed did not involve entrants to the scramble.