Recreation usage on ANF ‘off the charts’ in 2020 – timesobserver.com

The Allegheny National Forest is a key aspect of any discussion on the future of tourism in Warren County.

And recreation on the forest in 2020 was “off the charts,” according to Bradford District Ranger Rich Hatfield.

“The ANF saw very impressive growth in our recreation program in 2020,” he said. “Use was up across the board, particularly at many of our campgrounds and the Jakes Rocks Trail System.

Use of the trail systems on the ANF – especially the Trails at Jakes Rocks and those at Morrison — also spiked in 2020.

At Jakes, Hatfield said “spring use was up more than 100 percent compared to spring 2019.

“This system, gaining a national reputation as a premier mountain bike destination in the northeast, will house close to 20,000 visitors by year’s end,” he said.

Officials have been counting people at Jakes since Oct. 2018 and, through October, there were set to be about 300 more vehicles per month at the trailhead in 2020 when compared to 2019. Four of the top five months since that tracking started have been this year.

Hatfield said those totals are likely higher as the counter is at the main trailhead and doesn’t capture people that enter the system at other places, such as near Elijah or at Bent Run, which drew about 700 users in both Sept. and Oct.

Trail traffic at Morrison also grew significantly by over 50 percent year over year.

“These counters are infrared — the device is installed on a tree and counts passes on the trail,” Hatfield said.

“In some other locations, we have TRAFx counters set up that count vehicles. We are experimenting a little, too, with bike specific counts.”

That traffic carried over to the revenue generated on the ANF.

Revenue for fee sites was up 26 percent with some campgrounds seeing much larger increases – 40 percent at Kiasutha and 33 percent at Willow Bay for example.

Reservation revenue, per data provided by the ANF, rose from $427,461 to $646,177 and revenue on the whole for recreation site use increased from $767,511 to over $965,000.

It’s easy to look at 2020 as an outlier.

Will these trends continue into 2021, especially as vaccination efforts might bring life back to some sense of normalcy?

“I certainly hope so,” Hatfield said. “Active outdoor recreation has numerous benefits and if our area’s offerings was a secret in the past, the secret is out now.”

He explained he expects to see continued growth on the Trails at Jakes Rocks as well as increased bouldering as Goat Fort Climbing introduces people to the sport.

“Given the investment that people made in 2020 in outdoor recreation equipment such as bikes and kayaks, I suspect they will be back again in 2021 looking for active outdoor recreation experiences,” Hatfield said. “Anecdotally, we heard of huge demand locally for recreational equipment such as mountain bikes and kayaks.”

He also sees opportunities for the ANF to improve the recreation amenities on the forest.

“I am very excited about the potential for the Great American Outdoors Act to fund deferred maintenance projects at some of our recreation sites that were built in the 1960s, for example the Kiasutha Recreation Area,” Hatfield said. “In 2021, we are also continuing our work to improve our non-motorized trail systems.”

That includes working with the Warren County Chamber of Business & Industry and Northern Allegheny Mountain Bike Association at Jakes “and continuing our work to complete trail connections between Kinzua Beach and the Morrison Trail System.”

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