One of the ironies in the debate over the Anthracite Outdoor Adventure Area (AOAA) is the claim by those opposed to the project that "out of towners" will bring trouble. They won't respect local residents. They'll destroy property. They'll harm the environment.

Of course, anyone who has traversed the trails that criss-cross the 6,500 acres of abandoned coal lands and forest that make up the Northumberland County-owned AOAA property knows there's been plenty of harm done by "locals" for decades - from the coal barons who raped the land in the first place to those who continue to litter it every weekend.

So it should come as no surprise that someone has vandalized pretty much the only existing "structure" on the AOAA site thus far: two large metal road gates. Coal Township police say the gates - the letters "AOAA" built in - were cut from the wooden posts that supported them sometime in the past 12 days.

It's a relatively minor case of vandalism, but the crime has plenty of symbolic value in that the AOAA project has been controversial since Day 1. Those opposed have expressed legitimate concerns regarding restricted use of public land that was once free and open to all, about the impact on small streams and wildlife, and about the loss of prime hunting territory.

After all the effort expended to make this project successful and spur tourism and economic development, however, it's disappointing to see opposition apparently manifest itself in such a senseless act of vandalism. It stings a bit more, too, considering the gates were fabricated by local students at the Northumberland County Career and Technical Center, and the material to make the gates was donated.

It's an inauspicious start to construction of the welcome center at the site, and will no doubt lead to heightened security. We hope it will be the last destructive expression of opinion.

Police have their work cut out in catching vandals who operate in such a secluded environment, but one thing is almost certain: those responsible live right here.