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Cook Forest officials look at infrastructure needs

COOK FOREST — Cook Forest Park officials held an infrastructure tour to highlight some of the needs of the park.

Park Manager Ryan Borcz lead the tour, stopping at five locations around the park to show some of the most visible areas of need. These included children’s playground equipment at one of the camp sites, a walking bridge that has been shut down for safety, and a camp site bathroom/shower house.

Many of the structures around the park were built by members of the Civilian Conservation Corps, who were employed to restore the nation’s natural resources. These CCC workers built most of the park infrastructure from 1933 to about 1938. This makes most of the buildings in the park about 80 to 90 years old.

The Log Cabin Inn is one of the buildings these men built. It served as living quarters, then later as a restaurant, according to the DCNR website. Today, the building is the environmental learning center in the park with educational displays about animals and early logging and lumber industry.

“A lot of these structures were built for the CCC boys. They were built for the boys while they were doing the work that they did in our state parks and forest. That’s what they were intended for, and here we are 90 years later still using them for outdoor recreation...,” Kevin Blair said.

Blair went on to explain that the infrastructure needs often get pushed back further and further on the list because they spend so much time with the upkeep that has to be done. They have to focus on health and safety needs above everything else, like sewage lines in the ground. The visitor amenities that also need updating end up being temporarily fixed to keep up with it all.

“We’re doing more and more with less and less people and as that infrastructure ages, we continue to gain more responsibilities... And they do more with less everyday,” Blair said.

The park office was recently moved to a new building that was constructed behind the old park office. This building was made a priority because the old park office often experienced flooding, which had gotten worse over the last few years of heavy rain. Some of their historic documents were getting damaged because of the repeated water damage to the building.

Jake Scheib, the assistant district manager with the Bureau of Forestry, also talked about the upkeep of roads around the park. He said there are 71 miles of roads that have to be maintained, and some of the equipment used is from the 1980s.

“We have to maintain those roads to give the public access to the state forest system. Many of those roads were built by the CCC folks, so you can imagine what we’re working with,” Scheib said.

Parks and Forest Foundation President Marci Mowery mentioned that many of the bridges in and around the park had exceeded their lifespans. Most of the bridges were built with a 50-year lifespan, and are still being used 64 years later. These bridges are more than just walking route bridges, some of them are part of homeowners main route to get to and from their home.

One of the stops on the tour was a foot bridge that connects hiking paths. It is a 67-foot long bridge, and was closed after an inspection by an engineer. The concern with this bridge specifically is pocket rust. There are many other similar bridges along Tom’s Run through the park. The stop on the tour is a particularly popular bridge used often for photography. Three similar bridges have been taken out of service in Clear Creek State Park, and two are being replaced. This is the first one that has been closed in Cook Forest State Park.

“This along with five others, I’m certain will have to be replaced in the next five, maybe 10 years,” Ryan Borcz said.

This bridge specifically gives hikers access to the old growth without having to take the strenuous walk to the Forest Cathedral.

Another focus point of the tour were the children’s playgrounds around the park. The tour stopped at a specific playground that Borcz said will likely have to be closed at the end of the season.

“They’re such an important part of childhood development. I was just walking by a park recently and I heard this little girl, she had just climbed up this climbing apparatus and she said, ‘Look mommy, I climbed to the top of Mount Everest,’ and that’s the imagination that one of the proponents of why playgrounds are so important,” Mowery said.

The wood of the equipment is splintering, and fall material needs to be replaced at all the playgrounds to meet safety standards.

Another concern of the park officials are the showers at the camp sites. The tour stopped at Ridge Camp to show the typical showers around the park. The building is made of stone, which Borcz said is harder to keep clean than a newer tile shower would be.

The cement floors also heave seasonally with the cold weather. The ADA accessibility of the showers, and some other park facilities are questionable as well.

There are many ideas and plans for improvements to be made around the park, the main problem is how to find the funding for all the projects. Cook Forest is kept very busy, particularly over holiday weekends such as the recent Labor Day weekend. The camp sites were completely filled for the weekend, and the park workers want to keep the infrastructure up to date and functioning for the public.

Prioritization amongst the parks in Pennsylvania is difficult to predict. People will see other camps and parks getting upgrades, and question why one park is upgraded over another. The park officials explained that there is so much to be done all across all the parks, and the upgrades just happen at different times for different places.

They hope to be able to come up with solutions, and find ways of funding to keep the state parks up to the standards that both the park and the visitors deserve to have.

Flood-damaged area receiving recovery loans

NEW BETHLEHEM — Six weeks after Leasure Run and other streams ripped through southern Clarion County, residents and businesses are still dealing with flood damage.

The area affected included portions of Armstrong, Butler, Clarion, Forest, Jefferson and Venango counties. As a result of the limited geographical area impacted by the disaster, state and federal emergency management agencies were unable to fund much of the recovery effort.

Another federal agency, the Small Business Administration sent representatives to set up an assistance center inside the New Bethlehem Volunteer Fire Department’s social hall until September 5. Better known for offering its expertise to new and established business owners, the SBA also provides disaster assistance in the form of low-interest loans to homeowners, too.

On Wednesday, Sana Nasir, a disaster recovery specialist for the agency, talked about what she and her team were doing for area residents.

“We do not write any loans or process any applications on-site,” she said. “We walk around a disaster area, get a sense of what happened and then talk to people who walk in seeking help.”

Nasir was the head of the three-person team tasked with keeping the flow of information going between local residents and the SBA regional headquarters in Atlanta, Ga. Towanda Dillard and John Afodofe, both customer services representatives, conducted intake interviews.

Aid applicants must meet several criteria before being approved for an SBA low-interest recovery loan. They must have acceptable credit scores, show an ability to repay the loans and must present collateral for loans above $25,000.

Interest rates range from 1.938 percent to 8 percent and depend on the availability of other credit to the applicant. Loan terms are usually set for 30 years, but certain businesses with access to alternative financing may be limited to seven years. The interest and terms are set by the SBA and are determined by an applicant’s ability to pay.

Loan applications are processed at SBA headquarters in Washington, D.C., and most local paperwork was still pending last Wednesday. Karen Knapik, public affairs specialist, was able to report that one area applicant had been approved for a $22,000 loan and that more are on the way.

In some cases, the SBA may lend funds for flood mitigation in the form of retaining walls or sump pumps, for example. But before any of that takes place, people such as Nasir and her team are a boots-on-the-ground presence for the agency.

“We just walk around the towns we are in, look at the damage, visit local businesses and talk to people,” she said last Wednesday. “We will be closing this assistance center Sept. 5, and then heading to the Philadelphia area to help people affected by wind damage there.”

Nasir and her team may have closed the New Bethlehem center, but she noted that residents affected by the July 19-20 flash flooding can still apply for aid.

“Residents now have until October 21, 2019, to apply for help,” she said. “Businesses looking for economic-injury help can apply through May 20, 2020.”

Applicants can still file online at www.disasterloan.sba/ela.

Reliance Firemen's Club officially opens

PHILIPSBURG — Fire companies have been dealt with state funding cuts, making it that much harder to keep afloat. Because of these cuts, companies have been forced to try creative ways to bring in revenue so you and your loved ones can be protected in case of a fire. This is where the Reliance Firemen’s Club comes in.

The Reliance Fire Company – located in Philipsburg – has created its own club that will provide home-cooked meals to the public.

Club manager Jim Coble said the fire company has owned the building – on North Centre Street across from Weis Market – for many years, using it previously as a Bingo hall and then leasing it out to another organization.

Once the lease was up, Coble said the company looked into creating a firemen’s club, with talks of the venture starting in August 2018.

“The whole goal to begin with was to make a good, family sit down type restaurant,” Coble said. “And we opened it Tuesday (Sept. 3).”

Coble said the fire company has hired a small staff to run the place, as it will be open from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. each day. Currently, Mike Mull is the cook while Sue Hollabaugh is the head bartender.

The fire company also applied for a liquor license, with Coble stating it’s in the “transfer process.” Once that goes through, those who join the club will be able to order alcohol. But anyone can come in and enjoy the meals.

“We have two separate rooms,” Coble said. “We have a room and the bar/serving area. Then we have a separate dining area across the hall.”

Coble – also a Philipsburg resident – said he retired from state police liquor enforcement about five years ago. The fire company approached him about what it would take to open a club and acquire a liquor license. He then joined the fire company as a social member and is now the club manager.

“The whole goal of it is for this club to provide funding to the fire company to provide protection to the community,” Coble said.

Coble said there are other clubs of this nature located in Bellefonte, Tyrone, Brookville, DuBois and Lewistown.

You can eat in or take out, as you can call 376-6058 for the latter option. They will also have daily specials, which can be viewed on its Facebook page “RFC Firemen’s Club.”

“You can also call and see what those daily specials are,” Coble said.

Those wanting to become a member can contact Coble at 577-7450 or inquire at the club.

Police seek teenage runaway

CLEARFIELD — Pennsylvania State Police in Clearfield are investigating the report of a runaway juvenile.

Police were responded to a call on September 6 at 7:57 p.m. At 3 p.m., police say, Braden Allen Hazel, 15, received permisson from his foster parents to go for a walk but he failed to return home.

He is described as 5 feet, 8 inches tall, 110 pounds with ear length, wavy, sandy brown hair, blue eyes with a thin build and fair complexion. He has the outline of a skull tattoo on his left forearm.

He was last seen wearing a black “Adidas Originals” T-shirt, tan pants, a black, white and gray hooded sweatshirt, and black Adidas sneakers.

Anyone with information on his whereabouts is asked to contate the Clearfield-based state police at (814)857-3800.