As part of a recent five-state, $26 million effort to create a more vibrant economic future for Appalachia’s coal-impacted communities, a $471,843 grant was awarded to invigorate the economy of five central Pennsylvania counties.
The U.S. Appalachian Regional Commission grant supports a project that is expected to drive 12,000 new visitors annually to the area, generate over $18 million in tourism revenue, and create 26 jobs. This is the latest round of awards by the Appalachian Regional Commission in this effort.
The grant was awarded to SEDA-Council of Governments (SEDA-COG) and will be used to position reclaimed mine land as a destination for regional outdoor tourism.
The project focuses on Columbia, Montour, Northumberland, Snyder, and Union counties whose economies were damaged due to job loss in the coal-related industry. Efforts will concentrate on marketing outdoor recreation and tourism as an economic engine to replace a portion of the economy lost by coal impacts.
“This investment capitalizes on the growing momentum for a diverse economy in Appalachia,” said ARC Federal Co-Chair Earl F. Gohl. “It is one of many strategic, collaborative, and impactful projects making the region more competitive in technology, manufacturing, entrepreneurship, broadband, health, and a variety of other sectors.”
This award is an opportunity for a better economy in coal-impacted Pennsylvanian communities, said Dennis Davin, state Department of Community and Economic Development secretary.
“Assisting our coal-impacted communities presents significant opportunities for community revitalization and economic advancement,” Davin said. “The Wolf administration appreciates the Appalachian Regional Commission’s support of these efforts in Pennsylvania. We anticipate continued progress as the recently awarded POWER grants are implemented.”
The project creates a five-county economic diversification strategy that is multi-faceted and whose centerpiece is the Anthracite Outdoor Adventure Area (AOAA). This 6,500-acre motorized and non-motorized recreation facility can be expanded and marketed to become a driving economic force in the area. The AOAA stretches across six communities in Northumberland County (Mount Carmel, Coal, Zerbe, East Cameron, and West Cameron townships, and the City of Shamokin).
U.S. Rep. Lou Barletta (PA-11) supports the project and advocated for the project to the Appalachian Regional Commission.
“The Anthracite Outdoor Adventure Area is one of the finest examples anywhere of successful reclaiming of old coal lands. This grant will go a long way toward helping with ongoing reclamation, and also help the local economy by creating jobs,” Barletta said. “I’m proud that my office was able to be of assistance, because grants like this truly benefit the entire region.”
Northumberland County created the AOAA and helped move it forward with investments to help with the planning and marketing of the facility. The AOAA officially opened in May 2014 after the Appalachian Regional Commission partnered with the county on two prior projects with the goal to reuse abandoned coal mine land to create a safe, outdoor adventure area.
Northumberland County Commissioner Samuel J. Schiccatano said the joint effort by all parties involved strengthened the grant application.
“I especially would like to thank Rep. Barletta and his office, our county planning department, and SEDA-COG for all of the help we obtained to get this grant,” Schiccatano said. “This not only helps us in Northumberland County to build a new 911 cell tower, but it also helps in the development and expansion of our AOAA park, which is part of our growing recreational area in Northumberland County.”
The Susquehanna River Valley and the Columbia-Montour visitors’ bureaus that cover the five-county area will promote the AOAA as a destination.
The grant will help the AOAA become an economic driver for the area by funding better cellular and broadband service for emergency and business communications, and physical expansion.
An EMS/cell tower will be built to provide 911 cellular service not only for the AOAA, but improve it for the entire county. At the AOAA facility, the increased cellular service will provide greater safety for visitors, and better broadband will increase business efficiency for staff.
Facility campground infrastructure will be constructed, creating six new jobs, and 15 miles of trails will be built.
Increased visitors to the region will stimulate the area’s economy and can generate entrepreneurial activities. The Bucknell University Small Business Development Center will help potential entrepreneurs by offering training workshops in the five-county area, consulting services, materials, and marketing assistance.
Dennis Robinson, SEDA-COG’s executive director, said the grant will help offset the regional impacts of the loss of the coal industry and shows what can be accomplished with the strength of partnerships.
“This region has acutely experienced the loss of the coal industry in historic and recent times, and people feel it directly and indirectly. This grant is a much-needed boon for this area, and we will continue working with our partners to make this region a better place for this and future generations,” Robinson said.
The effort is part of the $73 million Appalachian Regional Commission has invested since 2015 to diversify the economy of its region's coal-impacted communities through the POWER (Partnerships for Opportunity and Workforce and Economic Revitalization) Initiative.
The POWER Initiative is a congressionally funded, multi-agency strategy bringing federal resources directly to help communities and regions that have been affected by job losses in coal mining, coal power plant operations, and coal-related supply chain industries due to the changing economic of America’s energy production.
The Appalachian Regional Commission is an economic development agency of the federal government and 13 state governments focusing on 420 counties across the Appalachian region. ARC's mission is to innovate, partner, and invest to build community capacity and strengthen economic growth in Appalachia to help the Region achieve socioeconomic parity with the nation.