PORTAGE – Borough leaders are inching closer to approving some Portage streets for off-road vehicles with state permits.
Borough Council members and Manager Bob Koban had a work session last week with members of Allegheny Ridge Recreation Association to identify possible routes.
“We are looking at concerns with road use and not impeding traffic in the borough, and also safety,” association member Doug Wagner said after the meeting.
The idea is to allow Portage residents to use trails outside the borough without hauling their machines on trailers to avoid traffic citations.
“I’ve been trying to get this through since I got on council,” Councilman David Hayes said.
During last week’s council meeting, prior to the work session, Wagner provided information about other municipalities opening streets to all-terrain vehicles. Most of the communities listed are part of an effort by Central Mountains ATV Association Inc. to expand ATV trails across northern Pennsylvania.
The Northcentral Pennsylvania ATV Initiative currently stretches from Lycoming to Clearfield counties, along with areas to the north.
The Allegheny Ridge Recreation Association would like to see a similar project connect the Clearfield County trails to the ATV trails at Rock Run Recreation Area near Patton and expand south along the ridge to Mountain Ridge ATV Park in Somerset County, Wagner said.
Registration fees for off-road vehicles are used to fund ATV trail development. Wagner said the funding has primarily been directed to projects in the northern half of Pennsylvania.
“We’d like to see some of that money go to trails in the south,” he said, noting that 55% of ATV registrations come from southern Pennsylvania.
Cambria County is eighth among the state’s 67 counties for registered ATVs, with Allegheny County topping the list, Wagner said.
“There are over 5,000 just in Cambria County alone,” he said.
Wagner said he’s seen a study that shows the Allegheny Ridge’s potential for an off-road vehicle trail network.
“It is not a high-impact area, and the state owns the land in many places,” Wagner said.
A larger network would allow ATV enthusiasts to travel farther, stopping in communities along the way for meals, gas and lodging, Wagner said.
“If we could start connecting these trails, it could bring economic benefit,” Wagner said.
Gary Haluska, of Patton, led efforts to develop Rock Run when he was a state legislator. He is now a volunteer board member for Rock Run Recreation Inc.
Haluska said Rock Run leadership looked into a larger trail network before developing the 6,000-acre park, which extends into Clearfield County. They looked at the extensive networks in other states, including West Virginia.
“We did our research on Rock Run,” he said. “In West Virginia, there is a lot of corporate land. We have so much private property here, it would be difficult.”
ATVs are not permitted on state roads, and are only allowed on township roads and borough streets if approved by the municipality, he noted. State Game Lands are also off-limits.
“I was in the Legislature for 20 years,” he said, adding that he served on the transportation committee. “It would be really, really tough to get that kind of stuff statewide.”
For now, Portage Borough Council will consider a plan limited to borough residents, Koban said.
“Council is focusing only on allowing residents of the borough to have access to exit points out of town to where they ride, and back home again,” Koban said. “It’s not going to open up Portage Borough roads for people coming into town to buy gas at Sheetz.”
Both Wagner and Koban said any ordinance permitting ATV routes would have an expiration date requiring a review after a few years.