Progress reported, but long road ahead for trail

Those behind the creation of the Trails at Jakes Rocks mountain biking trails have passed several preliminary obstacles, but still have miles to go before they ride.

The stakeholders were updated on the progress of the project at a meeting Wednesday morning at the headquarters of the Allegheny National Forest.

Representatives of the ANF, Pennsylvania Kinzua Pathways (PKP), International Mountain Biking Association (IMBA), Warren County Chamber of Business and Industry (WCCBI), Council on Tourism, and University of Pittsburgh-Bradford attended.

Once the ANF has a finalized proposed action, two periods of public comment will ensue.

Bradford Ranger District Planning Team Leader Steve Dowlan said scoping is the first of those periods.

Organizers will reach out to interested parties in January or February to get their feedback on the project and its progress. “We can scope whoever we think we want input from,” Dowlan said.

Unlike many projects on the ANF, the interested groups in this case could include nationwide tourism and outdoor recreation groups.

The scoping period should last about 30 days and a 60-day public comment period will follow.

Dowlan said he does not expect much trouble with the project. Because the trail construction does not include cutting trees, bulldozing, nor blasting pits, the expected environmental impact is minimal. “This is pretty light-touch stuff,” he said.

The ANF is unable to guarantee that the project will receive final approval, but Bradford District Ranger Mac Herrera said he is about 95 percent confident that it will.

That comes into play for organizations that might be approached about providing funding for the project.

The first phase – about 17 miles of the more than 40 in the final proposal – is expected to cost about $700,000.

With about $190,000 in funding shifted from the Hunting and Fishing Museum of Pennsylvania and another $100,000 of Growing Greener II funds reallocated by Warren County, the project is on sound financial footing.

According to IMBA Mid-Atlantic Regional Director Frank Maguire, funding through the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR) is available, but with some conditions. The agency wants to see ownership or a lease agreement for the property the improvements will go to and it wants the project to be viable for 25 years, he said.

That the project is on federal land should help it with the conditions, he said.

Groups of students from University of Pitt-Bradford, and Clarion and Indiana universities of Pennsylvania, conducted biological and heritage surveys of the area in the summer. The results of those studies will be included in an environmental analysis of the project that is being created by another group of UPB students, some of whom were involved in the biological survey, according to Dr. Stephen Robar, UPB associate dean of academic affairs. Yet another group of students will be in charge of making the historical information available on the internet.

Robar suggested that the information emphasize the Kinzua Region. “The more that we present this as the Kinzua Region… that becomes important in terms of long-term support,” he said.

Jim Decker of the WCCBI said the Kinzua Point Information Center would make an excellent central point for attractions. “This is the place where you really start your adventure,” he said.

Dowlan said the proposed action would need to include some kind of maintenance plan.

“We can be a party to that memorandum of understanding,” Decker said.

Organizers discussed inviting oil, gas, and mineral owners and lease-holders to join as well.

A portion of that agreement could include weed-pulling events to help prevent the spread of invasive species, Dowlan said.

Joe Colosimo of PKP said the group hopes to “put a shovel in the ground in 2015 as soon as the snow melts.”