Hazleton Area Partners Look to Increase Recreation and Cultural Tourism with Help from $2 Million DEP Coal Mine Cleanup

Project Is Part of Abandoned Mine Pilot Program Focused on Community and Economic Development Potential

Local, state, and federal partners and supporters gathered at Eckley Miners’ Village today as Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) Acting Secretary Patrick McDonnell announced $2 million in funding for the cleanup of a 62-acre abandoned coal mine property. The project will enable the community’s planned extension of a popular bike path to thehistorical mining village and other area improvements.

“This project, which literally will create a path to enhanced recreation and cultural tourism opportunities, demonstrates how environmental benefits can be combined with economic goals to benefit our coal regions,” said McDonnell.

DEP selected the Hazleton/Eckley project to receive a share of $30 million in federal funding from the Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement (OSMRE) through its Abandoned Mine Lands (AML) Economic Revitalization Pilot Program. The project is one of 14 mine reclamation projects in Pennsylvania chosen for the pilot funding on the basis of strong potential for combined community, economic, and environmental outcomes.

Old mining pits and dangerous 40-foot highwalls will be removed, and part of Hazel Creek will be rechanneled to improve water flow and quality. Wetlands will be created, including an approximately two-acre pond that will be stocked with fish. Thesite will be seeded with grasses, legumes and trees. Wetland vegetation will be planted, including milkweed to benefit the monarch butterfly. Not only will Hazel Creek water quality and aquatic life improve, but the overall health of Black Creek Watershed will benefit.

When the environmental work is complete, Hazleton area partners plan to extend the popular Hazleton Rails to Trails bikepath to Eckley Miners’ Village, a preserved historical patch town in Weatherly Borough that educates the public on anthracite mining operations and life in a company town in the 1800s. The goal is to enhance regional cultural tourism, along with biking, hiking, and fishing.

Ultimately the hope is to connect the bike path to the larger Delaware Lehigh National Heritage Corridor Trail system, a 165-mile National Heritage Area in eastern Pennsylvania.

The project partners are Butler Enterprises, Cabot Corporation, the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, theDepartment of Transportation, the Eastern PA Coalition for Abandoned Mine Reclamation, the Greater Hazleton Partnership,the Greater Hazleton Chamber of Commerce, and Weatherly Borough.

The Pennsylvania AML Economic Revitalization Pilot Program grants demonstrate the benefits that could be realized in coal mining states across the country from passage of the proposed federal RECLAIM Act.  The act was introduced in Congress with bipartisan support, including Representatives Matthew Cartwright, Mike Doyle and Charles Dent of the Pennsylvania delegation.

If passed, RECLAIM will direct approximately $67 million of federal AML funding per year to Pennsylvania over the next five years for reclamation projects that also deliver local economic benefits in legacy coal regions that have been hard hit by recent declines in the coal industry.

Colleen Connolly, DEP