Chamber joins effort to research trail area

Like the proposed trails themselves, finding a way to pay University of Pittsburgh at Bradford students to research the area around 47 miles of trails had many twists and turns.

Instead of Allegheny National Forest personnel or outside contractors doing the work of analyzing and documenting the environment in the area of the mountain biking trails proposed by Pennsylvania Kinzua Pathways, UPB students will do that work.

That will reduce, but not eliminate, the costs associated with gathering the data needed to prepare a National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) analysis.

The students will be housed on campus during the work, will be reimbursed for expenditures, and will receive stipends.

Officials from the University of Pittsburgh at Bradford have suggested that the university could eat the housing costs in a sort of exchange for the benefit to students in the program.

That leaves gas money and stipends as the primary expenses facing those organizing the project.

Pennsylvania Kinzua Pathways relies on donations to keep its efforts moving forward.

In order to turn contributions into pay for student workers, PKP had to utilize a different pathway than its usual fiscal agent.

Enter WCCBI and WCDA.

The Warren County Chamber of Business and Industry (WCCBI) is an employer and manages the operations of the Warren County Development Authority (WCDA), a 501(c)3.

Money donated to WCDA can be paid, through WCCBI, to the students.

“It will be WCCBI employees working on behalf of the WCDA in the completion of this project,” WCCBI President and CEO Jim Decker said on Thursday.

“They really drove that part of it,” PKP’s Joe Colosimo said.

Decker said WCDA will apply as a work-study authorized employer through Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency (PHEAA). Qualifying employers are reimbursed about 40 percent of payments made to qualifying students.

WCCBI is behind the project.

“The Jakes Rocks Trails project has significant potential for this community for years,” Decker said. “The WCCBI is committed to seeing the Jakes Rocks Trails project completed as expeditiously as possible so that the impact of usage of the trails can begin to bolster and grow our tourism economy both locally and regionally.”

With the transaction process handled, the project needed some money.

Enter the Community Foundation of Warren County.

“This is an excellent project, going forward on a year-to-year basis,” Dr. Charles MacKenzie, Community Foundation executive director, said.

The Community Foundation looks favorably on programs that target economic development and has supported PKP projects in the past.

“This project is one of the spin-offs from the Leadership Warren program,” MacKenzie said. “It is geared primarily toward economic development.”

He said the trail system is expected to bring out-of-town visitors to the area.

The foundation gave a $10,000 grant to the project.

“The Community Foundation has been a lead contributor to the PKP projects as they have been for so many other worthy projects throughout Warren County for years,” Decker said. “They have provided both financial resources as well as mentorship to the PKP committee as they have developed these initiatives.”

Thanks to the efforts of WCCBI and the generosity of the Community Foundation, PKP’s members can focus on what they do.

“The Jakes Rocks Trails project has and will continue to rely on private-sector contributions and donations as well as possibly public sector grant funds to be completed,” Decker said. “Utilizing the administrative resources of the WCCBI and the charitable designation of the WCDA allows the creative resources of the PKP committee to focus on project specific activities such as fund-raising and partnership development as the project continues.”