An idea that most Northumberland County leaders thought would be greeted with eager acceptance instead created one of the most divisive stories of 2010.

And the "OHV park" is bound to create more headlines in the new year.

The county's plan to create an off-highway vehicle park for ATVs, dune buggies, four-wheelers and the like on 6,000 acres of county-owned abandoned coal lands in Coal, East Cameron, Mount Carmel, West Cameron and Zerbe townships drew praise from some and loathing from others - but perhaps its most significant issue is funding. The county requested $3.5 million in grants for the park, but this November received just $400,000 via check from the state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR), with encouragement from department Secretary John Quigley to "get creative" with other funding streams. The grant will be used for phase I of the project, which involves developing a master site development plan.

Still, the park idea brought both Quigley and his deputy secretary, Cindy Dunn, to the Shamokin area in 2010, and county officials remain optimistic that more funding can be obtained.

With that, the county Planning Department is "forging ahead" with planning, including evaluating the trail design and the Pennsylvania Natural Diversity Inventory study as well as addressing other "nuts and bolts," Director Pat Mack said last week.

He expects the next public meeting to be held in March, not January as originally planned, to give project consultant Pashek Associates, Pittsburgh, more time to address issues.

Two public meetings were held in 2010, where issues aired included whether local residents would have free or discounted admission to the park, whether hunting or hiking would be allowed and if local taxpayer money would be needed to fund the project.

Those who support the park, which, after two name changes is being called the Anthracite Outdoor Adventure Area, believe it will be an economic boon for the area in attracting riders from up and down the East Coast who will spend their money at restaurants, gas stations and other businesses while in the area, and will result in the reclamation of blighted land. They also cite the existence of a new ATV sales and repair business that opened in 2010 in Trevorton. Meanwhile, others are concerned about losing a free county-owned outdoor resource, and neighbors are worried about noise, dust and traffic problems.

In early November, Dunn and members of the National Off-Highway Vehicle Conservation Council (NOHVCC) joined local officials for a three-hour riding tour of the land that would be part of the OHV park. The following day, the Pennsylvania Off-Highway Vehicle Association, in cooperation with NOHVCC, hosted a day-long workshop at Masser's Banquet Hall in Paxinos to discuss the off-highway vehicle industry.