From the first mention of an off-highway vehicle park in Northumberland County four years ago, concept is beginning to develop into physical reality.

The newly created Anthracite Outdoor Adventure Area (AOAA) Authority board has taken the first steps toward construction of a permanent building at the park's trailhead south of Shamokin. The "welcome center," to be built by the end of the year, will include an office, conference room and three maintenance garages. The entrance area off Route 125 would include a parking lot with 75 paved spaces and 180 gravel spots, as well as benches, lights, signs and an area for safety courses.

Plans for a building and parking lot obviously represent a significant development, as the AOAA moves closer to a physical place, a true "park," rather than merely a spider web of trails through forest and coal lands.

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The authority will use a $1.5 million state grant from the state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR) it received in December 2011 toward the construction project, so that financial obstacle has already been hurdled. That money was awarded in large part due to the support this project has received from local elected officials and state government agencies and higher-ups. Money for the access road will come from a $300,000 grant received several years ago from the federal Appalachian Regional Commission, and the AOAA has also received money from the private sector, including $20,000 from Yamaha and $10,000 from Polaris.

The county also received $400,000 from the DCNR snowmobile and ATV fund toward the AOAA. That fund is supported by fees paid by riders, and doesn't come from taxpayers.

While more funding will be necessary to bring the AOAA to its full potential, the startup funds are there to begin construction and formally get this project under way, appropriately without burdening county taxpayers.

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All this marks both an exciting moment in the development of the AOAA - but also an anxious point of no return. The planning and study that has gone into it, however, and the indications of support the park has locally and nationally, plus the economic positives it has and will continue to reap for the area, convince us it's indeed time for construction to begin.