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 Central Pennsylvania Asset Based Economy: Adaptive Reuse of Coal Impacted Land and Outdoor Recreation as an Economic Engine POWER 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).
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. 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 by funding an EMS/cell tower to 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 (SBDC) will help potential entrepreneurs by offering training workshops in the five-county area, consulting services, materials, and marketing assistance.
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. This 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. Later this year, SEDA-COG will receive the 2017 NADO Innovation award for this POWER project. Each year, NADO recognizes member organizations that demonstrate innovative approaches to regional economic and community development through the Innovation Award Program.