Remove emotion from AOAA debate
After an emotional two weeks, it's time for a deep breath on the Anthracite Outdoor Adventure Area (AOAA). Time for a reality check, too.
The project has inherent concerns. It's rarely advisable for a government entity to run a side business, such as Northumber-land County plans to do in the off-highway vehicle and outdoor recreation industries. And who needs another authority - the chosen governing body for the AOAA?
Those important issues, however, have been given considerable thought. The county has 6,500 acres of land suitable for outdoor adventure (and not much else) in five coal region townships and believes there is a market for such activity. It could sell the land instead, but the valuable coal reserves still underneath it dictate otherwise. And the county doesn't want to have an outside company operate the AOAA for fear of giving up local control, hence the authority.
Those issues are certainly debatable, but some others recently cast up have little merit.
Suddenly, there is concern for the "environmental impact" of the AOAA park? Those folks apparently didn't have the same concerns for the past 50 or more years when miles upon miles of trails were cut across the forest and coal lands. While the state scolded the county for one of its early missteps, various agencies are aware of the ongoing work and don't believe cutting tree branches and establishing trails is a danger to the environment.
There are others concerned that out-of-towners won't respect the land, but we believe otherwise for those investing the time and money to drive here and pay for access. Besides, have all locals respected it? Of course not. That's whose junk has been dumped on AOAA land for decades.
The concern over visiting ATV riders causing problems beyond park boundaries is nearly as laughable. Again, who would travel to and pay for the right to ride on approved off-highway vehicle trails, then leave the property and cause problems for neighbors? Plenty of those type of troublemakers, unfortunately, already live here.
The accusation that charging a fee is "double taxation" is nonsense, too. We pay to stay overnight in a state park, to tour the Washington Monument or to see a football game at a local high school stadium - all facilities built with public money.
The impact on local emergency services and police forces has been distorted, too. Thus far, Coal Township police officers, hired for security, have been able to make a few extra bucks - paid for by organizations visiting the AOAA. Meanwhile, Shamokin Rescue Fire Company, which has a food trailer, has been among the local volunteer emergency organizations (not to mention businesses) that have earned money at the park, an opportunity they wouldn't otherwise have. And the primary local ambulance provider, a private business that supports the park, can likely make more money through providing services there, too. These are all positives.
Finally, the continuing claims that the county illegally controls the AOAA acreage and must sell it have been proven incorrect.
The more time spent on the unfounded, emotional roadblocks of this project, the less time there will be for making sure the truly important issues are properly addressed. Those right now include proper representation on the authority board and public access, including for hunters this season. We'll comment on those topics in this space soon.