News about park picks up

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The Anthracite Outdoor Adventure Area (AOAA) has been a regular topic in The News-Item for the past several years. But lately, as they say, business is picking up.

Counting today, The News-Item has published 13 stories about the AOAA in the past 18 editions (since Sept. 12), not counting editorials, letters to the editor and mentions in Sound Off.

As most readers know, the recent stories have detailed various controversies surrounding the park's development. Earlier in the summer, AOAA news was of a more positive nature, particularly for the weekend visit by Jeep Jamboree USA.

No matter the tone of the stories, the bottom line is that the AOAA will be the subject of many headlines in the years to come. That's to be expected when you consider:

- It's a major undertaking connected to much-needed economic development.

- The park is being built on county-owned land and county employees are overseeing much of the planning, so it's subject to considerable scrutiny by the public.

- Not only is the government involved at the very heart of the project, but the AOAA will be governed by a publicly appointed authority, which to some is an automatic reason for debate.

- The park is being constructed on land that has been used for decades by local hunters, hikers, off-roaders and partiers, and the changing "landscape," so to speak, has understandably caused an emotional backlash.

For these and many more reasons, the AOAA as become one of the most important stories for the greater Shamokin area.

The AOAA, which had a few other unofficial name variations in its earliest days, was first referenced in The News-Item on March 12, 2009, in a story about an upcoming visit by then-DEP Secretary John Hanger in connection with the FUTURES green energy program, which has since been disbanded by the county. The story said:

"Plans for the park, said county Commissioner Kurt Masser, are preliminary, but a feasibility study is being conducted to look into vacant coal lands for other purposes. Being considered are nature trails, walking trails and motorbike and ATV trails."

The first use of the term "off-highway vehicle" park occurred in the paper on March 25, 2010, in a story headlined, "Off-road vehicle park idea draws national attention."

"The county is close to hiring a consultant to conduct a master site plan for the park that will cover as many as 6,000 acres of old coal mining land stretching from Mount Carmel Township to Zerbe Township," the story said.

As for the name Anthracite Outdoor Adventure Area and its now familiar AOAA acronym, they first entered the local lexicon in a story on Nov. 5, 2010.

With more than three years of AOAA-related stories already written, we figure it's only the beginning. Good, bad or otherwise, we'll continue to do our best to inform the community of this major public project, as we would for any other subject of this magnitude.

(Heintzelman, editor of The News-Item, writes "The Week In News" for each Saturday edition.)

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