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Outdoor activities boom during pandemic

LOCK HAVEN — “The impact of COVID could be a silver lining for our area. There’s nothing to do but be outside,” Clinton County Director of Planning Katie deSilva said.

deSilva was talking about the huge increase in outdoor activities during the pandemic and what the $23.3 million BUILD grant would do for Clinton, Tioga and Lycoming counties, which have taken a regional approach in applying for the federal money.

“The use of outdoor facilities is unprecedented. Private campgrounds, cabins, hunting camps, state parks and state forests are all full,” deSilva said. “Bike shops, outfitters, outdoor equipment stores are seen a huge surge in demand.

“Restaurants, bed and breakfasts, lodges, service businesses were unable to take advantage of these floods of people during the shutdown. They can recover slowly if we can sustain our outdoor infrastructre and connected facilities.”

And deSilva knows all about outdoor infrastructure and connected facilities. She’s been involved with the creation of the Bald Eagle Valley Trail in Clinton County, which will eventually connect to the Pine Creek Rail Trail and take hikers and cyclists on an 80-mile trek to Wellsboro.

That’s where the grant will come into play in Clinton County. Although Clinton County’s portion of the grant — $1.4 million — is the smallest, it’s a big deal.

It will complete the final 11-mile leg of the Bald Eagle Valley Trail in Porter Township and connect the BE trail to the Pine Creek Rail Trail.

“If we get this grant, the Pine Creek Rail Trail will be completed,” deSilva said.

She said the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources has focused on trail development for recreation for many years.

“Now, bike trail development that separates walkers and bikers from cars is happening all over the world. This year, it’s all about bicycles and pedestrians,” deSilva said.

“The Pine Creek Trail is one of the most popular trails in the country,” Wayne Township Supervisor Jim Maguire said.

“Look at the Pine Creek Rail Trail. We thought people wouldn’t use it. It’s a showpiece. People come from all over to use it,” deSilva said. “It’s a whole new outdoor activity. People have more time for outdoor activity these days. It used to be hunting and fishing. There’s more to offer now for the younger generation with recreational vehicles… four-wheelers, trail bikes, side-by-sides. And we’ve got the trails for them,” Maguire said, talking about the vast expanse that provides these riders miles and miles of trails to enjoy their sport.”

Maguire mentioned the nearby Wayne Township Nature Trail and said he counted 157 people on that trail in one day. He said the parking lot is filled every day.

“It’s unreal. Bikes are the new toilet paper,” he said, referring to the lack of toilet paper in stores when COVID-19 hit. “People can’t find bicycles and bicycle dealers are having a hard time getting bikes to sell.”

“This is an opportunity for us to show the Department of Transportation how much the population is interested in outdoor recreation,” Lycoming County Deputy Director of Planning and Community Development John Lavelle said.

He talked about a survey conducted in March which received 750 responses from people all over Pennsylvania and some from out-of-state.

“We were shocked to see that many people respond … and the responses were all positive,” he said of the support and interest in outdoor recreation.

There’s plenty of excitement among the planners as they talk about what they will do with the grant money and the great things that can be accomplished in the three-county area.

They’ve worked hard putting this thing together. Now they’re hoping all that work and their regional approach will pay off and they will bring the money home.

“If we do, I’m gonna go nuts,” deSilva said, smiling broadly.

She’s definitely ready to move on to the next step and start BUILD-ing.

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