AOAA to allow riders into Shamokin for November event

Riders on dirt bikes head out to a trail at the AOAA on Thursday.

An abandoned mine at the Anthracite Outdoor Adventure Area known to the Coal Region locals as "the caves" is one of seven projects selected by the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection for clean up of a hazardous water-filled pit and spoil piles.

The state agency announced on Wednesday the approval of $25 million in funding for seven environmental cleanup and revitalization projects at abandoned mine land (AML) locations across Pennsylvania. The  project on 88 acres in the Bear Valley Southwest portion of the western reserve of the AOAA will expand the trails to include approximately 6,600 feet of extreme rock crawling trails, re-establish and/or construct approximately 4,370 feet of off-road/ATV/dirt bike trails, and create a new recreational attraction for public use that will boost the local economy.

"We're really excited about this," said operations manager Dave Porzi. "It will get rid of a water hazard and it's economic development for the area. It will be a beautiful project when it's done. Having this is another step forward for the AOAA."

The AOAA, which caters to off-road motorized vehicles, hunters, hikers and other outdoor enthusiasts, is located along Route 125 on 6,500 acres of forest and reclaimed coal land in Coal, East Cameron, Mount Carmel, West Cameron and Zerbe townships. The park is owned by Northumberland County and managed by the AOAA Authority. More than 26,000 passes were sold last year compared to 19,000 in 2017, and the park generated $535,000 in total business in 2018 compared to $525,000 in 2017.

The location of the project is near the Whaleback, a seven-acre geological formation on property adjacent to the AOAA Western Reserve, said Porzi.

The project is expected to take two years, but does not yet have a price tag. The site survey and pre-bid meetings will occur at the end of May, said Porzi.

"This will hopefully rival the Rubicon Trail on the West Coast and draw people to the East Coast," he said, referring to a 22-mile-long route in the Sierra Nevada about 80 miles east of Sacramento.

Local officials welcomed the news on Wednesday.

"It's another attraction for the adventure area. It will continue to help us draw visitors from all over the East Coast," said AOAA Authority Chair Jim Backes.

"The caves have been around for a long time," said Northumberland County Commissioner Sam Schiccatano. "It will beautify that section that used to be a stripping pit. It's going to make it better for the AOAA."

“This was greatly anticipated for Northumberland County, greatly needed,” said Northumberland County Commissioner Kymberley Best. “I am very appreciative to the Governor Wolf and his administration."

“The approved abandoned mine cleanup projects will help eliminate public health and safety hazards and improve stream, groundwater, and land quality,” said DEP Secretary Patrick McDonnell in a prepared statement. “The funding is an important investment in the community from environmental, recreational, and economic development standpoints.”

The local community and economic development projects include three surface mine reclamation projects, one acid mine drainage treatment or remediation project, three coal refuse pile/culm bank remediation projects, and a historic mining preservation project to move a historic mine fan and other artifacts to a mine museum.

Project funding comes from the federal Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement (OSMRE) 2018 AML Pilot Program, which specifically targets abandoned mine cleanup projects that are linked to local community and economic development goals. This is the third year that Pennsylvania has received funding from the AML Pilot Program.

The cleanup of abandoned mines is a priority of the Wolf Administration and has been included in the Restore Pennsylvania initiative, a statewide plan to aggressively address the commonwealth's vital infrastructure needs. Funded through a commonsense severance tax, Restore Pennsylvania is the only plan that would help make Pennsylvania a leader in the 21st century.

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