By Justin Strawser

COAL TOWNSHIP - Off-road vehicle enthusiasts across the state have a craving for more places like the Anthracite Outdoor Adventure Area, said participants from the ride Sunday.

"We're hungry for safe, legal places to ride. We don't want to worry about the game commission tracking us down," explained sixth region representative Matthew Michael during the group's lunch break.

More than 70 riders from all over Pennsylvania and New Jersey were given tours in their ATVs and side-by-side vehicles for six hours Sunday on the 6,500 acres of Northumberland County-owned mountains and abandoned coal lands stretching from Zerbe Township east to Mount Carmel Township.

AOAA authority member David Crowl and Anthracite Trail Riders member Dennis Felty divided the riders into two groups and led each on a tour of the east and west ends of the property in the morning, and then switched groups in the afternoon.

"I've been to a lot of places, but this is in the top three that I've ridden," Ron Severn, 51, of Bethlehem said.

Severn, who has been riding since 1986, has been to the park before to ride and help clean up debris and litter, and he was excited to be back.

"I love it. This is awesome. I can't wait for it to be open officially," he said, noting beauty of the terrain and view.

The authority's intention is to have a trailhead constructed this year, a goal Severn is eager to see completed.

"If they could open this year, it would be fantastic," he said.

Michael agreed, saying the park had "100 percent support" from because of the terrain, view and variety of trails - flat trails for speed and rough trails for experience.

"There's really anything you're looking for," he said.

Michael, 35, said the area has a special place in his heart because he used to spend his summers with his grandparents, who live in Shamokin, and hike the AOAA property. His grandfather actually helped mine the coal in the same area the park encompasses today.

Family ties are another reason he wants to see the park succeed. That would translate into more revenue for local businesses resulting in a boost in Shamokin's economy as well as surrounding communities.

Michael said he would be satisfied with a shack in the parking lot if it meant they could ride legally and safer.

Crowl expressed his approval of the group and noted they were well organized and responsible.

"They are welcome back anytime," he said.