NORTHUMBERLAND COUNTY -- Parts of our area have been hit hard by the loss of jobs in the coal industry, but officials in central Pennsylvania hope to change that with a new grant that promotes tourism and job growth in other industries.
An economic development agency in Union County was just given close to $500,000 in federal grant money to help rebuild the economy that was hurt after many coal jobs were eliminated. Now that agency, SEDA-COG is using a large portion of that money to promote tourism of an outdoor adventure area near Shamokin.
It's normal to drive through parts of Northumberland County and see coal banks. Many are not in use anymore. According to SEDA-COG, an economic development agency, in Columbia, Montour, Snyder, Union and Northumberland Counties coal jobs are few and far between. In fact, coal power plants in Washingtonville and Shamokin Dam are closing or converting to natural gas.
"But when they do start employing folks again, with the gas-fired plant, they're going to be employing them at a fraction of what they were going to be several years ago when it was coal fired," Betsy Lockwood said.
Recently SEDA-COG got almost $500,000 in federal grant money from the United States Appalachian Regional Commission. The grant is meant to stimulate the economy that's been hurt by the loss of the coal industry.
The project centers on the Anthracite Outdoor Adventure Area, which is located just outside Shamokin.
The Anthracite Outdoor Adventure Area, or AOAA is a 7,000-acre property with a 300-mile trail made for ATVs, SUVs, motorcycles, and everything in between. It opened in May of 2014 with about 6,500 visitors that year.
"Full year of 2015, that raised to 9,500 visitors. In 2016 we've had over 13,000 visitors to the property," Dave Porzi said.
The facility's director of operations, Dave Porzi says the AOAA is growing fast, but what's slowing it down is the lack of infrastructure around it.
"Restaurants, hotels, places for people to stay," Porzi said.
This grant aims to take care of that. Officials believe building hotels and restaurants near this facility will increase tourism, which will increase jobs.
"There's a lot more outdoor tourism than anyone realizes. I think there's definitely a way for the citizens of this region to capitalize on that," Lockwood said.
The project also includes building a cell phone tower at the facility, so people can use their electronic devices on the trails. The expansion will also allow the facility to open more days per week, and extend its hours.