SHAMOKIN — A different trail connecting the Anthracite Outdoor Adventure Area to city streets will be tested during a September ride and could ultimately serve as the permanent portal for off-road vehicles to access the downtown.
Terrace Avenue exists as a street on city maps but the earthen and, at points, narrow pathway parallel to the Shamokin Creek is limited to pedestrian traffic. It intersects with the winding Spurzheim Street near the Rescue Hose Company and the former Holy Trinity Episcopal Church.
Dave Porzi, operations director, AOAA, said it’d take three to four days to clear and widen the path. It would be used by AOAA visitors riding side-by-sides, four-wheelers and dirt bikes, he said. Jeeps and trucks would stick to the highway to get in town, he said.
The path is eyed for the AOAA’s Sept. 21 trail ride to allow event-day-only access to the downtown and partially in the west side of neighboring Coal Township. It’s planned also to be used for one-day-only access in October and November.
The path is preferable, Porzi and Mayor John Brown said, because it better avoids residential areas compared to on-street access points used previously.
The plan, though, is to make it the permanent access point, Porzi said, should City Hall move to full-time restricted access to downtown streets — an economic stimulus effort to lure tourism money off the mountain and into Shamokin.
“We want to keep the traffic away from city residences as much as possible,” Porzi said.
“Because of these ATVs and the tourism coming into town, that’s why we got that $2 million grant for a hotel,” said Forrest Curran, owner of the Ale House Bar and Grill on Independence Street and vice president of Shamokin Area Businesses for Economic Revitalization (SABER).
The state awarded $2 million towards proposed projects to build a new hotel at the former Coal Hole site on Walnut Street and renovate the former Jones Hardware building on Independence Street for another hotel. The project is helmed by Shamokin native and real estate developer Andy Twiggar.
“It’s going to bring tourism dollars to this city. It’s going to save this city,” Curran said of the AOAA and the importance of on-street access for off-road vehicles.
“There is no other reason to have a hotel in Shamokin,” Brown said.
Terrace Avenue is within the 30-foot right-of-way for the Shamokin Creek. It abuts private hillside property belonging to homeowners on Marshal Street on the hill above. It’s shaded by trees, a few having fallen over the pathway, and wedged along a bank. There are no homes directly along the path. It’s a trouble spot for littering and more serious police activity.
Two footbridges over the creek including the Patsy Bridge, which physically crosses the path, too, would remain in place, Porzi said. The Patsy Bridge and the approach to the bridge would be modified to allow safe crossing for pedestrians and riders, he said.
The trail crosses undeveloped land owned by the Shamokin Housing Authority, Shamokin Cemetery and Mike Guarna. Stewards of all three properties — Dave Kinder, chair of the Authority, Bill Milbrand, president of the Cemetery Board, Vince Guarna, whose son owns a parcel involved — told The Daily Item separately they support the planned use.
Kinder said the Housing Authority is exploring steps needed to obtain permission from Housing and Urban Development to permit temporary access and, eventually, a full-time lease.
Kathy Vetovich and her husband, Sam, bought the former Holy Trinity Episcopal Church, which was decommissioned and considered for demolition. They plan a multi-use facility including a welcome center, coffee shop and bed-and-breakfast.
“The accessibility is what I love,” said Kathy Vetovich, SABER president.
“If this is the gateway welcome to the downtown, you can’t think of a better building,” Andrew Miller, executive director of the Susquehanna River Valley Visitors' Bureau, said during a tour of the old church.
Darwin Tobias III, chief of the Shamokin Police Department, said motorists can be taken off-guard when encountering off-road vehicles on city streets. He acknowledged the risk that comes with allowing such access, however, all riders must abide traffic laws the same as typical motorists: speed limits, stop signs, etc.
He’s working with Shamokin Fire Police to provide traffic control at specific intersections during the upcoming events.
“The more we do it, the more people will get used to it,” Tobias said. “I absolutely believe (off-road vehicle traffic) can be integrated with the patience of our citizens.”
Brown, Shamokin’s mayor, talked about the noise at previous rides created by the off-road vehicle engines echoing off homes along the city’s narrow streets. Terrace Avenue is the ideal alternative to keep the noise down and keep off-roaders out of regular traffic as much as possible, he said.
Residents on Rock Street opposite the Shamokin Creek will experience increased levels of noise on the trail. If made a permanent path, access will also be under control of AOAA and litter, loitering and drug use on the path will be reduced, Brown and Porzi agreed.
One-time events like those planned by AOAA draw hundreds of riders into Shamokin. They arrive on the same day and they often arrive downtown at en masse. Porzi said that would change if access were permanent. The novelty would wear off, he said, and traffic would flow in and out rather than extremely large groups arriving at once.
Brown likes the chances that on-street access through the proposed portal at Terrace Avenue would boost the city’s economy.
“Will it solve all our problems today and tomorrow? No,” Brown said, adding “tough choices” are on the horizon as Shamokin moves through the state’s Act 47 program for distressed municipalities. “But 10 years from now, Shamokin’s going to be OK because the tax base is coming back.”