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Plans unveiled for off-roading state recreation area in Pennsylvania

Off-road vehicles at the announcement of the new Catawissa Recreation Area.
Kat Bolus
Off-road vehicles at the announcement of the new Catawissa Recreation Area.

The state’s new motorized recreation area preserves 5,600 acres of unique land and gives off-road enthusiasts a public place to drive.

"So you think about the ecology, think about the economy and you think about the recreation, it all fits together all comes together on this site," said Cindy Dunn, Secretary of the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR). "It's the biggest opportunity in my tenure in this role, to bring it all together."

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Dunn was in McAdoo Friday, alongside various state representatives, to announce plans to create the Catawissa Recreation Area in both Schuylkill and Luzerne counties. DCNR purchased the land near Hazleton from Butler Enterprises with appropriations in the 2022-23 state budget.

The land was previously for off roading by Paragon Adventure Park, which closed almost 10 years ago.

The land is a plant and wildlife habitat, says Ellen Shultzabarger, the state’s forester.

"With this property, we'll be enhancing motorized recreation and Pennsylvania will be managing those forest resources and other resources on the site," she said.

There’s bogs and wetlands, rock outcroppings and old-growth Hemlocks, added Tim Ladner, the Weiser State Forest Manager.

A portion of the Catawissa Creek flows through the property. The state Department of Environmental Protection will also restore the creek from years of anthracite coal mining and reintroduce wild native trout back into the waterway.

Shultzabarger said the Department of Forestry will survey the site and determine where the important resources are located. The areas where the off-road activities will happen will be away from those areas.

The state previously had a moratorium on ATVs but now offers 908 miles of ATV trails on state forest land. The park will be the first specifically for ATVs and other off-road vehicles likes Jeeps and motorcycles.

“We are situated here in Central Pennsylvania to reach, within a couple hours, about 60 million people. It's huge," said John Norbeck, the DCNR Deputy Secretary for Parks and Forestry. "There's not a whole lot of places to ride in our neighboring states. So I think that this will bring a great economic boom to just not Schuylkill and Luzerne County, but the entire central part of Pennsylvania.”

DCNR is working on a master plan for the area and will be seeking public input later this year.

While the land will primarily be used for all-types of off-road vehicles, the state could also include mountain biking and hiking trails at the park, said Norbeck.

DCNR rangers will now patrol the site to manage existing activity and control unauthorized use of the land, the state says.

The Catawissa Recreation Area is scheduled to open by late summer 2023.