COAL TOWNSHIP — New ATV trails and connectors on state forest lands is welcome news for the Anthracite Outdoor Adventure Area in Coal Township, according to one authority board member.
The Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR) this week outlined final changes to its internal policy on ATV trails on state forest lands to respond to increasing demands for riding opportunities, local and county government interest in expanding recreational tourism, and legislative action. Pat Mack, a board member of the AOAA Authority, said any announcements like this are good news for the AOAA.
"The more recreation opportunities throughout the state, the more attractive our state becomes for tourists and visitors from farther distances away," said Mack. "From the beginning stages of planning the AOAA we heard from riders that they wanted and were most interested in destination riding, they wanted the opportunity to connect to towns, scenic views, and all kinds of different opportunities."
Where there was a moratorium on new trail development in the previous policy, the revisions now authorize DCNR to explore the potential for new ATV trails and connectors on state forest lands. Other changes include: allowing the Secretary to designate portions of the state forest road system as temporary, seasonal or permanent ATV trails; allowing the department to request public comment for projects that have broader impacts on the community/region; and supporting acquisition of lands specifically for motorized recreation use.
“This policy provides guidance to DCNR when acquiring, developing and managing lands for ATV use,” DCNR Secretary Cindy Adams Dunn said in a prepared statement. “The major change will allow the careful consideration of strategic new riding opportunities on state forest lands to connect regional trail systems.”
The policy is effective immediately. Implementation will be guided by a set of overarching ATV Management Principles developed by the DCNR Bureau of Forestry.
“With the principles guiding the work, the department will be doing an assessment of potential new riding opportunities that could benefit communities and businesses, and provide continuity to regional trail systems while balancing protection of the natural resource and other values and recreational uses of the public lands,” Dunn said.
A focus of the assessment will be the northcentral part of the state due to the prevalence of state forest lands, a relatively high number of township roads open to ATV use, and proximity to other DCNR ATV trail systems.
Pennsylvania currently has more than 260 miles of ATV trails in state forests.
DCNR plays a multi-faceted role with ATVs: registering their use statewide through a cooperative agreement with PennDOT; managing registration-generated fees for maintenance, enhancement, and enforcement of trail opportunities on state forest lands; and distributing grants to provide new recreational ATV trails and facilities.
Pennsylvania has around 285,000 registered ATVs. On state forest lands, ATV riding is allowed only on designated trails.
"I applaud the decision DCNR has made and appreciate the time and consideration they took in making this decision," said Mack. "This only not only expands the opportunity for better riding experiences throughout the Commonwealth but also the economic development opportunities that might come with it."
This decision will, Mack said, "hopefully draw the illegal user(s) away from closed and environmentally sensitive and non-motorized recreation areas and give riders an opportunity to travel across a state land or property without blazing their own trails or accesses in areas they don't belong. Hopefully, this moves the motorized users to the properly designed and approved trails which is important to protecting the entire experience for all types of recreation."
Mack said he would like to see the opportunity throughout the Commonwealth for riders to park their vehicles and trailers at one location and have the ability for them ride to several different destinations without ever needing to re-trailer and drive from this riding spot to that riding spot.
"The more opportunities riders have to see different parts of the Commonwealth, the more attractive the state becomes and the more opportunities for the AOAA to see more users," he said.