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End of the road

Roaring Spring cuts off access to borough’s ‘Mountain Ground’

The gate to “The Mountain Ground” off of Plum Creek Boulevard in Taylor Township remains open late Friday afternoon. Mirror photo by Patrick Waksmunski

Council cites liability issue in decision to pull land use permits

ROARING SPRING — About 1,350 acres of public land have become off-limits to most area residents after the Roaring Spring Borough Council voted to restrict access to the large tract of real estate in Taylor Township commonly known as the “Mountain Ground.”

Under Resolution No. 2021-5 approved by the council Sept. 13, permits for residents to use the former watershed land were revoked, ATVs are now banned and hunting on the property is restricted to borough residents or direct family members.

After finally catching wind of the recent vote, residents of Roaring Spring and the outlying communities have voiced their outrage over the new rule.

Now they’re looking for answers and are asking council members to reconsider.

“They’re telling taxpayers that they can’t even use their own public land now?” said Hollidaysburg resident Scott Dilling, who has used the property over the years for various recreational purposes. “I just don’t agree with it.”

Liability an issue

Council members voted unanimously at the board’s Sept. 13 meeting to restrict access to the property, according to the meeting minutes.

In addition to the ATV and hunting restrictions, the council also established a program with the Pennsylvania Game Commission that will allow game wardens to enforce the borough’s rules regarding the land, the resolution stated.

While new rules finally came to fruition, restricting access to the Mountain Ground is not a new issue, said Rodney Green, Roaring Spring Borough Council President.

An issue that has been “over 20 years” in the making, Green said ongoing concerns of liability, vandalism and increasing costs have been discussed by current and former borough councils.

“We gathered input from the public and had conversations with local ATV clubs and recreational groups. We did our due diligence, and we had the choice to do nothing or take action. We chose to take action.”

One of the primary reasons the council decided to restrict access to the Mountain Ground was because of continued vandalism on the property, Green said.

According to the council president, signage throughout the ground has routinely been damaged or destroyed, and he claimed that a large gate closing off one section was “ripped right out the ground,” most likely by a large truck.

A logging company has also been conducting timber work on the property, and Green said the company has experienced vandalism from unknown assailants.

“We’ve had a lot of issues surrounding inappropriate behavior and people simply not following the rules,” Green said.

The final straw, however, was liability concerns from insurance companies.

The Mountain Ground was never designated or intended to be a recreational zone, Green said, but the property has gradually welcomed more ATV riders, hunters and campers over the years.

A free permit to use the property evolved into a $10 fee, but with the increased number of people riding ATVs on the property, Green said it created a substantial liability for the borough.

Those liabilities sparked “extremely high” quotes from the borough’s insurance company to provide liability coverage for the area, he said.

With raising taxes as the only other viable option to cover the costs, he said council members agreed to make the move to restrict access.

“The insurance company made it clear that it had to stop, and if not, our premiums were going to be raised significantly,” Green said. “We felt we had a major liability issue, and changes needed to be made. We are elected officials, and we are trusted by residents of the borough to be good financial stewards. I don’t think it would be wise to incur big insurance premiums like this for recreation.”

Fairness questioned

Several people who reside within Roaring Spring and the outlying communities expressed their concern over the council’s decision.

Many took issue with new hunting laws for the Mountain Ground, which states an individual must live in the borough or be a direct family member of someone who lives in the borough to hunt on the property.

Dilling said even though he lives “just a few minutes away” from Roaring Spring, he can no longer step foot on the property.

“If someone that lives in the borough has a grandson in California, that person can use the property,” Dilling said. “But if you live right outside of town, you can’t go on that property anymore. How is that fair?”

Roaring Spring resident Ryan Musselman said even people who reside within the direct vicinity of the area no longer have access either.

“There are people that live right on the bottom of Plum Creek that can’t use it now,” Musselman said. “These people have been using that property their entire lives.”

More than 50 residents approached council members about the issue during a town hall meeting in May, which included residents from the surrounding communities as well.

While everyone in attendance was given the opportunity to speak before council, residents of the surrounding municipalities said they felt disregarded for not living within the confines of the borough.

“We were pretty much told that for anybody outside of the borough, our voices don’t matter,” Musselman said.

Aside from residents of Roaring Spring and a few “good neighbors” that directly touch the property in Taylor Township, Green said the Mountain Ground should be a benefit to the town’s taxpayers.

He added that the Mountain Ground will function like other recreational activities the town offers exclusively to residents, such as free swimming lessons and the YMCA.

“Why do these people feel they should benefit if they don’t pay taxes?” Green asked. “I understand their frustrations, but we have to look at the people who live in the borough. Even the original ordinance we made years ago stated the property was exclusively for the people of Roaring Spring.”

‘Devastating’ news

Many residents also voiced their concerns about how the decision will affect outdoor leisure activities.

Troy Wright, who lives in Plum Creek and grew up using the property, said local residents have used the mountain for hunting, fishing, trapping, hiking, biking and four-wheeler riding for generations.

With all permits being revoked and residents losing access to the property, residents fear one of the most common pastimes in the area has been stripped away.

“What other activities are left for kids to do in this area?” asked Wright, who added that his 14-year-old son is “devastated” by the news. “We are a community that enjoys the outdoors. This takes away a very positive activity from a lot of people and a lot of kids.”

Wright said that with a large public ground now unavailable, he fears that kids will look toward alternative properties to ride their ATVs on, including properties that may also be restricted.

“Kids need outdoor activities, and they need an outlet,” Dilling said. “The borough is taking these activities away but then expects the kids to still behave. They need a positive outlet.”

Musselman said many families that reside right outside of Roaring Spring have hunted the land “for generations.”

Many family traditions of hunting on the ground will now end, he said.

“This takes a big chunk of land away from people that use it for all sorts of recreation,” Musselman said. “People have used this property for generations and have hunted it their entire lives. Now they’re being told they can’t use it anymore.”

People also fear the impact the decision will have on older residents, specifically older hunters and outdoorsmen.

While people have traditionally been allowed to drive their ATVs throughout the property, hunters who are eligible to use the property must now park in a lot at the base of the property and walk up the mountain.

For older residents like Wright’s father, who is in his 70s and suffers from a disability, outdoor activities on the mountain may not be an option now.

“How is he expected to park at the bottom of the hill and walk the whole way up now,” Wright asked. “This is taking away a lot of opportunities from a lot of people.”

Reconsideration urged

Former users of the property are asking council members to take extra time to consider the decision, and many presented ideas to help mitigate the situation.

A possible solution, Musselman said, would be for the borough to hold another public meeting to further discuss the issue.

“If the borough would be open to having another meeting, there would be a lot more concerned people that have been secluded and segregated when it comes to what happens to the ground,” he said.

One of the common solutions citizens are lobbying for is the creation of a fee to use the land, which they believe could offset increased insurance costs.

Some residents said they would pay a fee of “$50 or more” if they would be allowed to continue to use the property.

“A lot of people would happily pay a fee, and we told them that,” Dilling said. “But I think they already had their decision made anyway.”

While a permit fee was explored, Green said it would not be possible due to the borough’s agreement with the Game Commission.

The Game Commission will now police the property and provide additional liability coverage under the resolution, which Green said would have to end if the borough charges a fee to access the property.

“If we charge fees to use the property, we have to cut ties with the Game Commission,” Green said. “We are in a co-op with them now, and if we charge a fee, our protection and liability will all go away.”

Musselman also suggested the creation of an organized club of trustworthy people from Roaring Spring and the surrounding communities who would police and maintain the land.

Former users of the property said they think the conversation shouldn’t be over yet.

“I think there were viable options that were available, and there was an open door,” Wright said. “We weren’t an angry mob of people that talked at the meeting a couple months ago. We were concerned people that wanted to figure something out, and we still do.”

The resolution is currently in effect, and Green said the expectation is to let the new rules play out and “see what happens.”

“We’re always willing to listen to what the people have to say,” Green said. “Can I say this will never change or we can’t adapt in the future? No, I honestly can’t. But we have something assembled that we would like to try for a little bit.”

Roaring Spring Borough Manager Lisa Peel said she understands and supports the borough’s decision.

“This wasn’t an easy decision for the council to make,” Peel said. “But I know they felt this was the best decision to make.”

Green reiterated that it was a tough decision, but he said he feels it was the right one.

“I’m very sympathetic to all of those people that have used this property for so long,” he said. “I hope they understand why we are doing this. We just had too much at stake legally and financially. Something had to be done.”

Mirror Staff Writer Calem Illig is at 814-946-7535.

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