Economic issues at the state and federal levels are impacting a project in Warren County.
Joe Colosimo, a founding member of Pennsylvania Kinzua Pathways, said the group is working on moving forward with a mountain bike trail system in the Allegheny National Forest. However, it has proven difficult to secure grant funding.
Part of the problem has been the fact each grant has its own rules, which make it prohibitive for groups of volunteers like those behind PKP. Classification systems could make the process easier, Colosimo said, so they would know which funds they aren't eligible for.
"We learned the lesson to check eligibility requirements," Colosimo said.
Money can be earmarked for different purposes ranging from non-motorized trails to heritage sites. After trying to navigate the maze, Colosimo said he can understand why some organizations have full-time grant writers.
Sometimes, Colosimo said, funding gets allocated for specific purposes. That money isn't made available for others even when nobody submits a grant.
PKP recently met with Congressman Glenn Thompson (R-5) to discuss grant eligibility. With the ANF being federal land, Colosimo said a lot of opportunities at the state level can't be applied.
As someone who works at a bank and also serves as an adjunct professor of economics, Colosimo said he understands how northwestern Pennsylvania would have a hard time growing economically through manufacturing because it lacks access to interstates and labor pools.
Tourism provides a different opportunity, Colosimo said, with Warren County standing out in that regard within the region. It has history surrounding the Allegheny Reservoir as well as engineering marvels which make the Kinzua Dam possible along with biological and ecological aspects.
Famous figures with connections to the area include Eleanor Roosevelt, Johnny Cash, George Washington and John Kennedy. Nothing around Kinzua tells those stories, Colosimo said, or explains how the dam was built on evacuated towns.
In order to capitalize, Colosimo said PKP is more than just a single project. It has implemented the Rimrock trail and the mountain bike trail is next.
"Raystown Lake has shown good trails have an economic impact," Colosimo said.
Trails in McKean County, the Elk Country Visitor Center and the Kinzua Sky Walk have shown the value of investing in tourism. When mountain bikers come to towns, Colosimo said, they stay and spend money.
Already, Colosimo said, PKP has spent $100,000 on the mountain bike trail project and is now at the point of going through an ANF environmental process.
ANF doesn't have the resources of money and manpower to move the project along. It could take $300,000 to $500,00 to hire a third party for the study, Colosimo said, but PKP is also looking at the option of having university students work on it as interns.
During the construction phase, Colosimo said another $2 million to $2.5 million will be spent for a total of $3 million on future expenses. Trail Solutions designed the trails and company representatives said after working in 38 states and 13 countries they had never seen a more beautiful opportunity.
When PKP met with State Rep. Kathy Rapp (R-65), Colosimo said they emphasized the value of a $3 million investment. It could generate a return of fivefold to sevenfold.
"In the current environment, we've been frustrated," Colosimo said. "Officials point out there's no money."
Federal debt looms at $16 trillion. This has been a result of costs, Colosimo said, and not investments.
Funds have not been used properly, Colosimo said, adding that he expresses to officials how the investment would benefit the community. Partnerships on the project have been fostered with mountain bikers, local businesses, the oil and gas industry and Friends of the Allegheny Wilderness.
"There are great health aspects as well as social ones with family and friends gathering to do something," Colosimo said.
As a result of PKP's outreach, Colosimo said representatives have offered positive feedback and letters of support. Still, they have been less willing to allocate funding.
Only six volunteers make up PKP and have found raising the necessary funds alone too complex. Although elected leaders are paid to fix the deficit, Colosimo said withholding investments isn't the answer.
Everyone believes their projects are best, Colosimo said, but PKP will take even a portion of the funding. He also sees Pennsylvania benefiting the most from the project even though it's on federal land.
"Congressman Thompson said he didn't want to borrow more from the Chinese by funding the trail," Colosimo said. "I don't hear that complaint when he's being paid."
If the government isn't meeting current expenses, Colosimo said that would include payroll. Freeing up $1 million to $3 million to invest would provide educational, social and health opportunities.
After thousands of hours and dollars spent, Colosimo said PKP is at the point where it needs $3 million and support letters won't get it done. Thompson did offer to support fundraising efforts.
"I asked if he wanted to buy a $3 million raffle ticket," Colosimo said. "Unfortunately, he couldn't do that."
In lieu of getting financial support for the project, Colosimo said he would at least like to see funding for the ANF or enough personnel there to conduct the study. Regardless, PKP has meetings scheduled with the University of Pittsburgh at Bradford to discuss students working on it.
Neither state nor federal government is being asked to shoulder the entire load. Instead, Colosimo said it could be a joint effort.
Mountain biking could fill a gap in the area. Events like Kwik Fill Kinzua Classic and Gran Fondo of the Alleghenies promote road cycling, Colosimo said, and there is also a large bicycle motocross contingent in the area.
"This could be the two-wheel capital of Northwest Pennsylvania," Colosimo said.
PKP will be launching a formal partnership with the Warren County Chamber of Business and Industry. That group's President and CEO, Jim Decker, told Colosimo he sees the trails bringing a lot of events to the area.
Surrounding communities like Toronto, Buffalo and Ohio have some of the most underserved mountain biking populations in the country. Visitors from those places may not spend a week in Warren, Colosimo said, but the trails are designed so they can't be done in one day.
"If we build it, they will come," Colosimo said.