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Opportunity for Warren County to grow its tourism economy

April 9, 2008
Any opportunity for Warren County to grow its tourism economy via the Allegheny National Forest begins 300 miles away under the Capitol Dome in Washington, D.C. No simple task. The U.S. Forest Service is already starved for funding to maintain its current recreational facilities in the ANF. Asking the agency to increase the number of its facilities wouldn't appear to be a viable option. In January, local Forest Service officials held a meeting in Sheffield to discuss the money crunch in the ANF budget. The meeting was designed to ask the public which ANF recreational facilities it felt were the most important. Those facilities would be maintained by the Forest Service. 'We can't continue to scatter funds to all the facilities,' ANF Bradford District Ranger Tony Scardina told the crowd at Sheffield. 'What we need is the most bang for our buck.' Not promising words from an organization that green lights any new facilities built in the ANF. 'I would rather have five great sites with things people want than 30 mediocre sites,' Scardina added during the meeting Again, not promising, particularly after the Bush Administration took the ax to the Forest Service's 2009 budget earlier this year, proposing to lop off 20 percent. One of Warren County's representatives in Congress might have a say in exactly how much is knocked off the Forest Service's budget in the end. U.S. Congressman John Peterson sits on House Appropriations Committee. 'I have met with the head of the Forest Service on several occasions and expressed my concerns to the cuts in the ANF's budget and my frustration with moving funds from the ANF's budget to other forests around the country,' Peterson wrote in an email to the Times Observer, addressing concerns that cuts in the Forest Service's budget might affect attempts to build a tourism-based economy in Warren County via the ANF. 'So, yes, I support increased funding to the ANF to maintain infrastructure through the forest. I also support returning forest profits from harvesting to the ANF so it could become self-sufficient.' U.S. Congressman Phil English, who also represents Warren County, said he believes the ANF's budget should be increased to allow for the growth of a tourism-based industry in the county. 'The short answer is 'yes.' I think we need to make the investment in Forest Service facilities in order to make people have access to the forest and a quality of access to the forest,' English said. 'If the facilities are closed or the hours reduced, that is detrimental. What we're seeing here is the mirror of a problem we are also seeing in our national park system. If we want to maintain these areas as part of our patrimony, we need to have the federal government as an aggressive and fully engaged partner. That means making the necessary investment. To me, the (ANF) is worth it, not only to maintain current facilities, but to create new ones.' So if funding is secured, creating new U.S. Forest-maintained facilities might not be a problem. However, creating any privately owned facilities in the ANF remains an unsolved and curious issue. Why does the U.S. Forest Service place strict restrictions on the development of private facilities on the ANF when it allows such facilities to exist on other national forests? Take the Inyo National Forest in California and western Nevada, for example. Former ANF Supervisor Kathleen Morse was a ranger in the Inyo, which boasts multiple private businesses that lease land from the Forest Service. Some of those businesses include: Parchers Resort, Big Rock Resort, Boulder Lodge, Silver Lake Resort, Mammoth Mountain Ski Area and Red's Meadow Pack Station. In addition, there are several privately leased marinas on Mammoth Lake in the Inyo. The Forest Service's latest revision to its Forest Plan does not call for similar development in the ANF. Peterson said he would support such development in the ANF - but with restrictions. 'I support the investment of private infrastructure to build the tourism industry, but it has to be done in an environmentally and sustainable manner,' Peterson said. 'Tourism must be developed regionally on the state level. That is why I, along with the Governor, established Pennsylvania Wilds. The key to tourism is getting the private sector to invest in the concept.' English agreed with the concept of allowing private development in the ANF. 'Comparing Inyo with the ANF is not apples and oranges. I believe in leveraging private entities to be stakeholders.' English said he is familiar with the marina and restaurant located at Wolf Run on the reservoir in Warren County. 'I think they are an enhancement,' he said. 'I think we need to have more private development around the ANF. I think some development consistent with the long-term preservation of the ANF. I do see a robust role for private interests that are willing to meet standards necessary to protect the ANF.'


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