It was for just six hours on one day, but Shamokin had the look and feel — and sound — of a true tourist community on Saturday.
Driving anything from small dirt bikes to the largest side-by-sides, riders from the nearby Anthracite Outdoor Adventure Area (AOAA) used trails connecting the mountaintop park to designated city streets in a coordinated effort to deliver tourists to the downtown.
Independence Street was especially bustling with off-road vehicles, and at about 1 p.m., the municipal parking lot at the east end of town was full of them — 50 or more. There was definitely a “buzz” — pun intended.
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Tourism — that is the ultimate reason county leaders gave the go-ahead to build the off-highway vehicle park on some 6,500 acres of county-owned forest and coal lands in the first place. Saturday’s inaugural “Taking it to the Streets” event was the largest coordinated effort yet to exploit the riders’ tourism dollars.
The abundance of traffic coming into the AOAA from Interstate 81, unfortunately, uses Route 125 and doesn’t have to cut through the city, or Coal Township, Kulpmont, Mount Carmel or other local communities. Saturday’s event “pushed” riders into the downtown, but judging by the turnout and some of the comments we collected, they were more than happy to do so. In fact, more than half of the 800-plus vehicles registered to ride at the park Saturday participated in “Taking it to the Streets.”
It’s likely every restaurant and gas station in town open during those hours was affected in a positive way by the hundreds of riders. And that should not be taken lightly. Busy restaurants need workers; they need more food; they need more supplies — they pay more taxes. And the companies providing the food and supplies, meanwhile, are also impacted. It’s a snowball effect.
There is also potential for more than just a one-day gain. There’s little doubt the good food and coal region hospitality afforded tourists Saturday will bring them back to the same establishments without the need for a designated day to do so. Remember, too, that not all of the AOAA riders are from faraway towns, and those within driving distance of Shamokin may now have a reason to come to town even if they’re not headed to the AOAA.
A day like this might also go a long ways toward convincing someone that a hotel in Shamokin would be a worthy investment.
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The goal of those who visit the AOAA isn’t to putt around town; they’d rather ride the wild trails. But that doesn’t mean they don’t want to support the local community. They did that on Saturday and will continue to do so in the future.
It’s called tourism, and it rode into town in what was a significant moment for the AOAA and Shamokin on Saturday.