When Pennsylvania Kinzua Pathways members heard the cost, they started looking for alternatives.
On Wednesday, the group that prides itself on bringing groups together, made another successful connection.
The next phase of the Jakes Rocks Epic Mountain Biking Trail System is a National Environmental Policy Act assessment. Based on similar work at another trail system, PKP heard that assessment could cost from $300,000 to $500,000.
Times Observer photo by Brian Ferry
Dr. Stephen Robar, University of Pittsburgh at Bradford associate dean of academic affairs, right, talks about the possibility of students working on an environmental analysis project on the Allegheny National Forest during a meeting Wednesday afternoon with Forest Service representatives, and members of Pennsylvania Kinzua Pathways, from left, Joe Colosimo, Ines Nelson and Chris Hobbs.
Facing millions of dollars still for the construction of the 39-mile trail system, the group was hoping to bring down the assessment cost.
To that end, PKP's Joe Colosimo contacted the University of Pittsburgh at Bradford and set up a meeting with the right people at the Allegheny National Forest.
On Wednesday, Dr. Stephen Robar, associate dean of academic affairs, met with Steve Dowlan, Bradford Ranger District planning team leader, wildlife biologist Al Wetzel, Ranger Mac Herrera, Assistant Ranger Tony Martoglio, and recreation team leader Julie Moyer, Colosimo, Ines Nelson, and Chris Hobbs of PKP, Jim Decker of the Warren County Chamber of Business and Industry, and John Papalia of the Council on Tourism.
By the end of the meeting, all involved were confident that well-qualified students at Pitt-Bradford could do the work, to their benefit, at a fraction of the estimated cost.
The students, working in pairs, would identify and catalog wildlife and plants in the area of the work. Wetzel said a rate of one mile per day would be acceptable, if the information is good.
Dowlan said the work could be done by "two or more students who would essentially become interns with the Forest Service."
Robar said he could recommend several "upper level field ecology" students.
"There's a very competent and skilled group of students that would be interested in working with you," Robar said. "These are field people. They're conservation oriented. My confidence level would be really high."
He said "half a dozen" worked last summer on ecology field work at the Pymatuning Laboratory of Ecology.
The negotiations were quick and easy.
Robar said he can schedule the students and assign academic credit for internships. "Students can engage in this type of work for academic credit," he said.
Students who are enrolled in classes at Pitt-Bradford during the summer do not have to pay lodging. Robar said he would check on the possibility of the university providing lodging for students from other schools who participate in similar efforts with the Forest Service - including a heritage survey of the same area.
If students required a stipend, it would be minimal - food and fuel costs. Colosimo said PKP would investigate finding sources for stipends if necessary.
And, he believes some members of the faculty would be interested in participating in the assessment as well.
The timing of the assessment and the students' academic year works out well. The spring semester ends in late April. Dowlan and Wetzel agreed that the assessment should begin in late April or early May.
It is possible that students could be involved before then. "I have no problem assigning them academic credit to come up here and be involved in the planning stage," he said.
The Forest Service would require nothing more than a volunteer agreement with the students, although both parties agreed that a more definitive written agreement would be appropriate.
Asked about the possibility of the students' efforts being questioned, "if they have the ability to give us the information we need it won't be a problem," Wetzel said.
In addition to the experience of working for and with the federal agency, students could be given six credits for their efforts in the field.
"It would be a wonderful synergy between the Forest Service and our campus," Robar said. "The Forest Service has been good to our students. This is easy for us."
He said he hopes the partnership could continue on and involve many more projects.
"There's definitely the potential for other projects," Dowlan said.
"I'll open a line of communication on a weekly basis," Robar said.
"I love what I'm hearing," Colosimo said. "PKP has always been about partnerships."
If everything goes according to plan, "shovels could hit the ground in 2015," he said.
Colosimo, Decker, and Times Observer Publisher Robert Patchen, announced that they have entered into a partnership on the trail project. "It solidifies it as a community project," Colosimo said. "It raises our voices a little bit."