BURNSIDE — In spite of a soggy weather pattern last summer that carried into spring, the forecast at the Anthracite Outdoor Adventure Area (AOAA) continues to shine “bright.”
Dave Porzi, director of operations of the off-road trail system on 7,500 acres of county-controlled property, said patron attendance this year has exceeded last season’s numbers. User demand, he added, has led to the five-man authority to expand the operating schedule of 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. from five to seven days a week.
Porzi said the added hours began in mid-May and will continue until at least Labor Day. Although attendance was relatively light on Tuesday, he noted that about 40 patrons had visited the park on the weekday after the expansion was announced.
“Tuesdays we have been seeing a decent flow … but we are still in that graduation, prom and end-of-school season,” he said of factors that may limit attendance. “What we have been seeing is (people) showing up on a Wednesday, and riding Wednesday, Thursday and Friday.”
Porzi said non-motorized users are not permitted to walk on motorized trails when the park is open, but are welcome to enjoy at any time a 3.1-mile walking trail that starts near the main office. Four exercise areas that hold 18 exercise fitness stations were recently installed as an added feature.
Off-road vehicles will not be required to watch the Shamokin fireworks from the AOAA. On July 6, people may access the main entrance road of the park to gain access to an upper parking lot, which offers a view of the Glen Burn Bank, where the display is launched at dusk.
“You don’t get the big bang, but you do get a spectacular view,” Porzi said of watching the show from about 2 miles away.
Staff members will also be assisting organizers Citizens for a Better Community and Citizens Fireworks Inc. to keep people off the Glen Burn mountain, per an agreement with landowner Edward Helfrick Jr.
Park officials have started preparations for the annual Flight the Blight ride, which Porzi described as one the bigger events at the park. It benefits the Northumberland County Housing Authority, which uses the proceeds to clean up, rehabilitate and eliminate blighted properties throughout the county.
Pre-registered riders for the September event will travel an approximate 25-mile loop and be allowed to access the Zerbe Rod and Gun Club, via designated Trevorton streets, for a chicken BBQ.
“It’s also a great fundraiser for the gun club,” Porzi noted. “We really appreciate the cooperation from the Zerbe Township supervisors with helping us to do this for the fourth year in a row.”
An event page will be created on the park’s website in the near future, Porzi added.
AOAA officials are also looking at the fall for the start of a 88-acre mine reclamation project that will eliminate highwalls and a water impoundment, locally known as “The Caves,” in Coal and Zerbe townships.
The Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), Bureau of Abandoned Mine Reclamation, is expected this week to award a bid for the project, which park officials anticipate will transform dangerous, abandon mine lands into a world-class attraction.
According to DEP, principal items of work to be completed within 30 months include grading 2.5 million cubic yards of earth; constructing 172,100 square-foot of extreme off-road trails, 65,500 square-foot of jeep/atv trails; 11,000 square-yards of improved access road and 5,000 square-yards of parking lot; and revegetating 84.2 acres.
“The rock obstacles are going to be more in the lines of black to red difficulty,” Porzi explained. “Jeeps will be crawling over rocks the size of refrigerators and Volkswagens.”
A separate land rehabilitation project that involved planting 1,900 trees was completed in May. Northumberland County Conservation District and the AOAA split the cost of stakes and protective tubes for the trees, which were donated through PPL Electric Utilities’ Community Roots program. Students from Shamokin Area High School got their hands dirty, as did park riders, who, with the assistance of Off-Road Consulting, planted the majority of the trees in areas lacking vegetation on the Western Reserve.
“We are very blessed and thankful that the users have taken ownership of this (AOAA) project and they’re the reason why we come to work every day,” Porzi said with enthusiasm. “We are trying to build a world-class facility for families to come and have fun with motorized recreation. There are lot of bright days ahead. And, as we always say, ‘Another great day at the AOAA.’”
MOUNT CARMEL — Following a year of hard work, the Rosa/Villalobos family received the keys to their forever home during a Snyder-Union-Northumberland Habitat for Humanity dedication ceremony Tuesday.
The Mount Carmel home on Olive Street was donated to Habitat for Humanity by a family who wishes to remain anonymous about a year and a half ago. Having a property in Mount Carmel was a first for Habitat, which set out to find the perfect residents for the home.
With no Habitat for Humanity in Schuylkill County, Samuel Rosa and Debra Villalobos hoped to find help from the Snyder-Union-Northumberland organization. Not only did they fit the criteria, but the proximity of the home to their jobs in the Pottsville area made them the perfect family to choose.
Sandra Hopkins, administrator at Habitat, said it’s a long process to find the right family and not everybody is right for the program, but when they met Rosa and Villalobos, they just knew.
Hopkins said when people from Habitat mention seeing people in homes with leaking roofs and crumbling walls, it’s not just a statement but a reality. That was the case for Rosa and Villalobos, whose foundation was crumbling and water was coming into the lighting units.
The couple went to view the house and said with some renovations, they could picture it being an amazing home for their family.
For the past year, Rosa and Villalobos have joined volunteers from Milton, Lewisburg and Sunbury every Saturday to do rehabilitation work on the property.
The home officially became theirs Tuesday during a dedication ceremony in which Rosa expressed his gratitude for getting to meet new people through the process. He said it was a pleasure working with the people from Habitat for Humanity and if they ever need anything to give him a call.
That call will be coming because as part of the program, home recipients have to pay it forward by volunteering to work on the next project the organization takes on.
Following a prayer and act of dedication, the family was presented with a Bible by Ellen Whipple, of family support, and a lockbox to store their new home documents in from Hopkins. Then the big moment came when Doug Gemberling, site supervisor, handed over the keys.
Hopkins said the moment the keys are given to the homeowner is like watching your child graduating college.
“When these families come in, they’re different people than when we hand them the keys. Some of these families have never held a tool in their life and now they get to build their own homes. You can see the growth during the construction process. It’s always a good feeling when we hand over the keys,” she said.
Villalobos tried to find the best words to articulate how much the day meant to her, saying being a home owner was something she waited for her whole life.
“I’m just grateful my children are able to have something to call their own,” she said.
Sometimes the process of rehabilitating the home became stressful, but she said it was exciting to be there from the beginning and to finally reach the day the keys were handed over.
“I’m just very grateful. I’ve been blessed with this opportunity to have my own home,” she said
BLOOMSBURG — For the 20th straight year, an honorable pack of Tigers invaded the lair of the Huskies and took the campus of Bloomsburg University by storm as they participated in their school’s 57th graduation Tuesday evening. During the ceremony, which was held inside the Haas Center, 105 Southern Columbia Area seniors received their high school diplomas.
Black and gold were the colors of the day as SCA students and faculty participated in the ceremony on a picture-perfect spring day. Tiger pride permeated throughout the crowd as proud parents and smiles abounded, while the graduates shared memories and said their good-byes to one another.
Class president Jadyn Brezinski opened the proceedings by expressing her appreciation for the blessings of her high school years at SCA and offered words of wisdom to her fellow graduates.
“I feel blessed to have attended a small school where I know each one of my classmates, a little about their families and their interests,” said Brezinski. “I feel blessed to live in a community that supports its youth. They fill our bleachers at a Friday night football game and our auditorium for sellout crowds for our musicals. We leave here tonight as ambassadors of Southern Columbia School District and our community.”
Senior members of the SCA chorus then followed with an stirring rendition of the song “A Million Dreams,” written by Pasek and Paul and arranged by Roger Emerson. Following their performance, the crowd applauded loudly.
Next, students graduating with honors came up on stage together and received special recognition individually as they stepped forward when their names were called.
Valedictorian Morgan Cole followed with a speech that challenged her fellow graduates to remember their “why.”
“There will be times when we feel inferior, stuck, or even lost in the enormity of our futures. When this happens, it’s important to remember what inspired us to start. What set us on this journey? What motivates us to continue?” Cole said. “When we can answer the question, ‘why’, then answering the questions, “what” and “how” becomes that much easier. If we hold our inspiration close to heart, we will discover that we cannot fail.”
Cole concluded by sharing what she believes are the most important attributes that the graduates possess.
“I know that as we embark on our respective paths in life, whatever they may be, that we will do it with courage, grace and love. Thus, the class of 2019 will always be united not by what we’ve done, but by who we are.”
As each of the graduates names were announced, they walked across the stage one by one as their name and picture were displayed on screen, along with their career choice. Family and friends cheered throughout the procession.
A special video presentation followed the presentation of diplomas to the graduates. The video, set to music, was comprised of a number of class photos which stirred memories and brought out emotions from the students, faculty and audience.
The video was produced by Christopher Gengler and the TV Production Class.
SCA Superintendent Paul Caputo offered his comments, toward the graduating class, which filled with hope and appreciation.
“My hope for you is that you’ll keep on learning, growing and challenging yourselves,” said Caputo. “You’ve left a positive mark on Southern Columbia. Congratulations to each and every one of you on a job well done.”
With that, Caputo instructed the graduates to move their tassels, signifying their final step in the graduation process.
Salutatorian Brooklyn Kuijpers focused on the common attributes that make the Class of 2019 one.
“I would like to think that as much as we were different, we were also similar in the ways that mattered,” Kuijpers said. “When I think of the attributes that our class has in common, I think of our independence, our ability to be confident in our talents and in our abilities. I think of our individuality, our ability to be anything that we set our minds to, our camaraderie, the way that if one of us succeeded we all supported them, our honesty and self-reflection, the way we always knew when we needed help or when we had the ability to help and, last but certainly not least, our kindness and our ability to raise each other up.”
COAL TOWNSHIP — A former Coal Township couple is in jail after being charged Tuesday with burning down their home in March on the same day they put the residence up for sale and two months after insuring it for $140,000.
Brett J. Stahl Sr., 27, and Jennifer N. Stahl, 35, formerly of 950 W. Pine St., and now of Haven Ministries in Sunbury, are charged by Detective Matthew Hashuga with multiple counts of arson and related offenses in connection with the March 20 blaze that destroyed their residence and placed firefighters at risk of injury.
The couple was arraigned late Tuesday morning by Magisterial District Judge John Gembic III and committed to Northumberland County Jail in lieu of $75,000 cash bail each. They are scheduled for preliminary hearings Tuesday, June 18.
Footage from a security camera angled directly toward the Stahl home, on the southwest corner of Pine and Maple streets, was obtained by police from a neighbor, according to an affidavit of probable cause. The camera captured all points of entry into the home and also showed the fire suddenly starting and spreading rapidly on the first floor.
Police said the video shows Brett and Jennifer Stahl as the last people to be inside the home, 39 minutes prior to the fire starting.
According to Hashuga, the video shows the Stahls arrived at the home at 3:10 p.m. March 20 and left at 3:21 p.m., before returning at 5:20 p.m. Hashuga said the Stahls remained inside the residence for about one hour and 40 minutes, before leaving at 7 p.m.
The detective said the fire ignited at 7:39 p.m. and was reported as a working structure fire by a neighbor to Northumberland County Communications Center at 7:44 p.m.
Hashuga said it took several hours for firefighters from Coal Township and neighboring communities to bring the fire under control.
State Police Fire Marshal Kirk Renn, who was requested to assist township fire officials in the investigation, used a hydrocarbon detector that revealed “alerts” in several locations near the southwest entrance of the home and the floor in the living and dining rooms, where the fire originated.
Renn collected multiple samples from the home that were sent to the Pennsylvania State Police Lab in Harrisburg to be tested for combustible fluids and trace evidence.
On May 13, Hashuga received the test results. The lab revealed an accelerant known as medium petroleum distillate was found on a sample of charred wood.
Renn then ruled the fire was incendiary in nature, with the probable cause being someone pouring a combustible liquid onto the floor in the living and dining rooms and, possibly, the front porch.
Greg Klebon, an agent with State Farm Insurance, told police Brett Stahl had his home at 950 W. Pine St. insured in January for $140,000 and its contents for $70,000.
He also said Stahl put in a claim for $2,000 for living expenses as a result of the fire. Klebon said the house was listed for sale on the day of the fire through Berkshire Hathaway Realty.
At the time of the fire, the Stahls were not employed. Andrea Fury, a claims specialist from State Farm Insurance, said a review of their bank records showed they had only $92 in their account at the time of the fire.
Police said Brett Stahl purchased the property at 950 W. Pine St. on July 24, 2018, from Emily May Anderson for $10,000.
Jennifer Stahl told police that, on the evening of the fire, she and her husband and their two children left the home between 6 and 7 p.m. and went shopping at Walmart in Selinsgrove while also looking for rental properties in that area.
Stahl said they were on their way home when she received a call from a friend alerting her to a fire in her block. Stahl said she didn’t know it was her home on fire until receiving several more calls.
Jennifer Stahl couldn’t explain how the fire started, Hashuga said.
Brett Stahl told Hashuga his children got home from Shamokin Area Elementary School at about 3 p.m. on the day of the fire and they all went to a park in Trevorton for a short time.
Stahl said the family came back to the home to use the bathroom before leaving between 6 and 7 p.m. and going to Walmart in Selinsgrove. He said the family then got something to eat at Walmart before driving around looking for rental properties.
Stahl told Hashuga that his wife has other children who live in the Selinsgrove area and that she wanted to be closer to them, which was the reason they were selling the house on Pine Street.
Stahl said he hasn’t been back to the Coal Township residence since the night of the fire.
Prior to leaving the house on March 20, Stahl said he didn’t remember anything unusual or out of place and said he had no idea how the fire started.
Stahl also said he knew the house was insured through State Farm in Shamokin but claimed he didn’t know how much it was insured for.
The Stahls are charged with three felony counts of arson, four felony counts of criminal conspiracy, a misdemeanor of criminal conspiracy, a felony of causing or risking a catastrophe and a misdemeanor of recklessly endangering another person.
Their two children are staying with their maternal grandfather.