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Awarded for volunteerism

In the first Raystown Lake cleanup event since the pandemic, around 125 volunteers managed to clean up more than a ton of garbage from the lake’s shores. Additionally, a long-time volunteer was honored for efforts Saturday morning.

Jenna Conner, park ranger with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, noted the number of volunteers at this year’s cleanup day was higher than in previous years.

“Typically, we collect around 2,000 pounds of garbage, but we had more boats this year, around 13 boats, so we probably gathered around 2,500-3,000 pounds of garbage,” she said. “(The turnout) was fantastic, as we expected a big buildup (of garbage) since we didn’t have an event last year.”

Conner was also excited to honor Ron Rabena, president of the Friends of Raystown Lake, for his volunteer service, through the Corps Foundation, the nonprofit organization that supports the efforts of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

Rabena was honored with the Enduring Service Award, which is an award that’s presented to someone who’s volunteered for at least five years or more with an U.S. Army Corps of Engineers project.

“I don’t think anyone else comes close to the number of hours of volunteering he does,” said Conner.

To put that in perspective, he’s officially logged around 5,000 hours of volunteer time since he started and became president of the Friends of Raystown Lake in 1996, but it’s likely he’s logged much more.

Jude Harrington, operations manager of Raystown Lake, said Raystown Lake is known for partnerships with other organizations, like the Pennsylvania Striped Bass Association, the Friends of Trough Creek-Warriors Mark Path, Energy Transfer Partners and many more.

“Energy Transfer Partners were the ones who donated the pontoon boat that helped with the lake cleanup today,” he said. “Ron, along with the Friends of Raystown Lake, were also instrumental in that.”

Marilyn Jones, treasurer for the Corps Foundation, presented the award to Rabena, who noted he was the backbone of many of the partnerships at Raystown Lake.

“If it weren’t for volunteers like Ron, we wouldn’t have the kind of partnerships we do have,” she said. “A lot of programs have been cut by the Corps, but Ron has been able to find the right people to put in the right places.”

He received a plague, a $250 check and a $250 gift card for Bass Pro Shops.

However, Rabena, in his remarks, was quick to thank those who work with him for their efforts.

“I wish I could cut this up so everyone get a piece of this, because this is everyone’s award,” he said, also thanking some of the partners he’s worked with, including the Pennsylvania Striped Bass Association, Juniata College, Wild Turkey Federation, those in partnership with Putt’s Camp, and Energy Transfer Partners.

“Since this award belongs to everyone, I think it should be hung up in the (Raystown Lake) visitors enter,” added Rabena.

Rabena also donated his $250 check back to the friends to aid in installing solar panels for electricity at Putts Camp and the Bass Pro Shops gift card to the local park rangers at Raystown Lake.

The Pennsylvania Striped Bass Association was also awarded the Northeast Division of the Excellence in Partnerships award from the Corps Foundation.

Harrington detailed their work with constructing a striped bass hatchery at Raystown Lake to keep the population of striped bass at the lake.

“That’s one of the reasons Raystown Lake is a tourist attraction is because of the striped bass, so when they learned they wouldn’t be stocking anymore striped bass from outside, they came to us and asked us if they could find a way to fix that,” he said.

MU building partially collapses

An abandoned building on South Jefferson Street, which is the subject of a proposed green space project by Mount Union Borough, lost its roof and partially collapsed on itself Friday during a windstorm that swept through Huntingdon County.

Mount Union Mayor Tim Allison reports there were no injuries and the area around the building, located at 15-19 S. Jefferson St., has been secured to the best of the borough’s ability. The sidewalk in front of the property is taped off, barring foot traffic.

The roof and the second floor appear to have fallen down onto the first floor and into the basement level. A portion of the exterior wall collapsed as well, damaging a garage next door.

Mayor Allison said he was contacted by Sgt. Justin Inch of the Mount Union Police Department around 6-6:30 p.m. Friday about the collapse.

“We are currently monitoring it and hoping it doesn’t get any worse,” Allison said Saturday afternoon. “This proves that this was not stable.”

After months of effort by solicitor Larry Lashinsky, the borough now owns the building and, with help from the Huntingdon County Planning and Development Department, is working on a plan to take it down and creating a public green space in its place.

Huntingdon County awarded the borough $52,000 in Community Development Block Grant funds for the proposed project; the borough, the county and the Mount Union Area School District forgave roughly $30,000 in back taxes so the project could proceed.

Stacia Fe Gillen, community development administrator with the county planning department, says the department is in the middle of an environmental review for the property, which includes a historic review.

As part of the review process, CES Engineering of McConnellsburg conducted a cost analysis for rehabilitation and concluded such a project would run $611,455 — “much higher than the property’s worth.”

Gillen said the building was listed on the sheriff’s sale for several years but did not sell.

Several Mount Union residents, including Patrick Reeder who serves on both the Mount Union and Huntingdon County planning commissions, have challenged the demolition, arguing the building could be rehabilitated.

“Moving forward we will try and make recommendations for the future so things like this do not happen,” Reeder said. “We will have to look at policy and procedures to see how this even happened.”

In the meantime, Mayor Allison said the state of the building is a concern for the police department since the building borders the police station’s parking lot.

“We still need to get our vehicles in and out of the lot,” Allison said, noting on previous occasions, debris from the building damaged vehicles parked in the lot.

Mount Union’s former code enforcement officer Alec Brindle said 15-19 S. Jefferson St. was among the approximately 20 buildings identified as blighted in the spring of 2019 during a borough-wide review of structures.

“It wasn’t No. 1 on the list but it was pretty close,” Brindle said.

Brindle toured the building in 2019 During the three-day process, he said he checked the building out from top to bottom and, based on his findings, brought its condition to borough council’s attention.

“There’s really nothing holding that building up,” Brindle said, explaining support beams were shot with mold and rot. “I took photos and got the hell out of there.”

Brindle, who left his position with Mount Union in March, approached the county planning department on behalf of the borough to see if there was funding available to remedy the situation. The ball has been rolling since on the proposed project.

Brindle said he’s not sure how to assess his level of surprise at Friday’s collapse.

“Never in a million years did I think a windstorm would demolish a building but then, I told (borough council) time and again that it was going to go. I didn’t know when, but it was going to go soon.”

As the project works its way through the review and approval process, Brindle said he is concerned about further deterioration on the site and public safety, especially for motorists driving on South Jefferson Street and those who live in the buildings adjacent to the property.

The building has been vacant for roughly 10 years. Built between 1910 and 1919, it once boasted two street level storefronts and two apartments on the second floor. At some point in its history, the storefronts were converted into apartments.

Rebecca can be reached at dnews@huntingdondailynews.com.

Wing-Off brings in over $6,500 for PRIDE

After a year with very few events, Huntingdon County residents came together to enjoy beautiful weather and good food and fellowship while raising much-needed funds to help their community Sunday.

The 18th annual Huntingdon County PRIDE Wing-Off was held at the Huntingdon County Fairgrounds, with 10 vendors raising over $6,500 for the organization.

“God gave us a beautiful day for the Wing-Off,” said PRIDE board member Debbie Higgins. “In the words of our PRIDE angel, Ruthie Reinhart, it was just ‘wonderful, wonderful.’”

Higgins expressed her thanks to the many people came together for the organization’s first event of 2021.

“So many folks made this event possible,” she said. “The PRIDE board members and other volunteers were busy Saturday setting up at the fairgrounds, which proved to be a fantastic site to hold the event, and Sunday even more volunteers joined to make the fun event a success.

“We’re especially thankful for our event sponsor, Brenneman’s Meat Market, who has been a faithful supporter of the event since it started,” said Higgins.

In addition to Brenneman’s, Higgins also extended thanks to the Sheetz Corp. and its Fourth Street, Huntingdon, store, as well as the Huntingdon County Agricultural Association, better known as the fair board, and the fairgrounds manager Dan Hawn, and Boy Scout Troop No. 28, the Gainers gymnastics team, Tim Schrack, Stricklers Ice, Rick Singleton Rentals and Shane Peachey of Peachey Productions, who kept the festive music rolling throughout the afternoon.

“We also had some very dedicated wing fryers,” said Higgins. “John and Chris Skipper, Dr. Jim Hayden, board member Josh Coffman and, last but not least, Cesare Reynolds and his brother Mike, started preparing wings for the vendors at 9 a.m. The Reynolds brothers kept six of the nine fryers going the entire time.”

In total, the organization sold 600 wings, which helped to net PRIDE $6,577.

None of it would have been possible without the vendors, including All American Pizza and Subs, the County Line Inn, the Huntingdon County Club, Huntingdon Moore 223/220, Memories, Mount Union VFW, Muddy Run Tavern, Rebelz, Village Tavern and Wing-N-Things.

“Obviously without the vendors, we would not have a Wing-Off and we are most grateful for their contribution,” said Higgins. “They work hard at ‘being the best’ and using their secret recipes to compete against each other.”

Judges helped select the top wings in each category, hot, barbecue and specialty.

“We have an esteemed group of judges who are kept in seclusion as they diligently taste each wing and come up with a score,” said Higgins.

This year’s judges included Oakie Coffman, Tonnie Devecchis-Kerr, Jim Ferrenberg, Derek Garner, Ian Hayden, the Rev. Rob Hill, Bill Kerr, Dave Long and Becky Weikert Bard.

After the final vote tallies were in, the following wing-off winners were announced: First place for hot wings went to Memories; second place, Wings-N-Things; and third place: Moose 223/220. In the barbecue category, first place went to The Village Tavern; second place, Memories; and third place, Rebelz. In the specialty wings category, first place honors went to Moose 223/22; second place, Muddy Run Tavern; and third place, Rebelz.

“The vendors were given the opportunity to learn who the People’s Choice winners were, however they declined as they said they are looking forward to receiving the news on live TV during our 2021 Telethon to be held Wednesday, Sept. 29, through Saturday, Oct. 2.

Higgins also extended special thanks to PRIDE administrative assistant Holly Laird and PRIDE board members Dan Varner and Doris Hayden for helping to organize Sunday’s event.

“We were also pleased and encouraged by our younger volunteers, the Gainers and the Boy Scouts, as both groups expressed they can’t wait to return next year and provided great ideas to make the event bigger and better,” said Higgins.

Becky can be reached at bweikert@huntingdondailynews.com.

Crews fight mountain fires

Firefighters from across the county spent most of Sunday battling wildfires in two different parts of the county

Between 75 and 100 area volunteer firefighters from 13 area fire volunteer companies and nearly every brush unit in Huntingdon County was pressed into service Sunday before noon to battle a mountain fire that ravaged its way through the Rothrock State Forest in Cass Township very close to the Penn Township line just above Trough Creek State Park burning a total of six acres.

Both the Marklesburg and Trough Creek Valley volunteer fire companies were initially dispatched for the call that was believed to be off John Bum Road in an area around the Terrace Mountain Road. Since the area is quite dense and steep, firefighters had a tough time pinpointing the fire’s exact location.

Trough Creek Valley Fire Co. deputy chief Chris Bair, who was in charge of the call, said firefighters initially looked in area around Horseknob Road. Huntingdon County dispatch informed personnel that several calls about the blaze were reported by individuals boating on Raystown Lake between the the areas of mile markers 13 to 15.

At this time, other volunteer fire companies were joining in the call including the Smithfield Volunteer Fire Co. and its special unit and Boat 10 that launched into Raystown Lake from the Aitch Boat Launch. Within an hour of the initial call, seven brush units and two tankers were on the call.

Firefighters believed the source of the blaze to be in a rugged, steep area above the ice mine at the end of Trough Creek State Park. One hour into the call the source was discovered by an RW&BT Fire Co. crew not far below a staging area off Terrace Mountain Road.

Crews had hoped to reach the fire on an access road below the ice mine at the park but were advised it was too narrow. The Six Mile Run Volunteer Fire Co. was contacted to bring its UTV to that area to assist.

ATV and UTV units from other volunteer fire companies were called to assist with accessing the rugged and rough terrain that was not easily maneuvered on foot or by larger brush units.

At one point during the call, firefighters battling the blaze reported that it was getting out of control and was jumping the road. They acted fast to regain control of the blaze which was being fanned by a moderate wind blowing through the region throughout the call.

“The wind was a major problem for us all day. It kept shifting course forcing us to shift our focus in trying to gain control of the fire,” he said.

By early afternoon it was determined that air drops were needed. State Department of Conservation & Natural Resources (DCNR) personnel secured an airplane and a helicopter from State College that both made water drops on needed areas within the fire perimeter.

Bair said there was three airplane drops and 18 helicopter drops were made on the blaze. Boat 10 supplied water from Raystown Lake to brush units closer to the lake which Bair said was a big help.

He said the cause of the blaze is being listed as undetermined. It is being investigated by DCNR personnel.

Along with those companies previously mentioned personnel from the Alexandria, Huntingdon Regional Fire and Rescue, Mount Union, Orbisonia-Rockhill, Shavers Creek, Three Springs, Mill Creek and Hustontown volunteer fire companies participated in the call.

The call ended six hours later. And as many cleared the scene, another brush fire was reported off Mill Creek Hollow Road near Big Valley Pike in Brady Township. The area was also in steep and rocky terrain and crews remained on scene until dark.

Adam can be reached at dnews@huntingdondailynews.com.

Senator visits Broad Top Medical Center

State Sen. Judy Ward made a stop Friday afternoon at the Broad Top Area Medical Center where she learned more about rural health care and how it is being administered by center physicians and other healthcare providers.

Greeting Ward at the Broad Top City facility was center CEO Dr. John Roth and chief operating officer Shelly Rivello. Also present was medical center board members Paul Wright and Malvin DeLuca.

Roth, Wright and DeLuca provided Ward with a history of the creation of the medical center. The medical center will soon be celebrating its 50th anniversary since first being created in 1973.

Ward took the opportunity to meet several members of the medical center staff that provides a wide range of medical services to residents of the Broad Top and surrounding area. One of those services now includes administering COVID-19 vaccines.

Friday, 75 area individuals had signed up for the vaccines. Rivello told The Daily News that since the supply of shots are more widely available, the center is able to offer more of them to the general public and encourages those who have not received them and wish to receive them to make an appointment.

Ward said there is really a need for healthcare facilities like the medical center. Too often, she said small rural medical facilities fall by the wayside and that she is happy to see the Broad Top Medical Center is not one of those.

“For a small rural healthcare facility to remain in its same location for nearly a half century not only says something about its people, but also its providers. We need partners like these who will continue to fill the everyday needs of the public it serves,” continued Ward.

Ward agreed that the federal government must recognize the needs of rural health care facilities and try to meet those needs as quickly as possible. Facilities like the medical center, she said, are needed to fill voids. Ward said they can reach out and work with other local health care systems to provide adequate services to those in need.

Roth agreed stating that the medical center wants to do so much more for the people it serves. “We want to give quality health care but we need your help,” he told Ward.

Adam can be reached at dnews@huntingdondailynews.com.

HASB members talk budget cuts

The Huntingdon Area School Board held a special finance committee meeting Monday night to discuss different cuts that could be made to the current budget to lower the deficit.

The school district’s proposed budget is $33,922,606, with a 2.5612 increase in millage. The projected overall budget deficit is $1,423,248.

Board member Cindy Dell suggested the district cuts 15% of all athletic programs instead of cutting one specific program all together.

“By cutting 15% to all athletics, we could potentially keep all of the programs,” Dell said. “However, how long do we keep the sports if there is low interest and a high cost to the district?”

Board member Dr. Dennis Plane suggested asking for the boosters for each program to help offset some of the costs. However, board member Tammy Peterson disagreed with the idea.

“We have already asked the boosters to step forward the past couple of years and they haven’t,” Peterson said. “The boosters could have come to us before the last meeting but they have not stepped up until the last minute. They have not stepped up in the past and I am okay with eliminating these sports besides swimming.”

Peterson also stated that cutting the other athletic programs might be what is the best for the district.

“I feel for all of these sports but if we have low participation, that is an issue,” she said. “In this area, field hockey is a dying sport. Other school districts in the area that our team plays against are considering a cut to their field hockey program, so they wouldn’t even have anyone to compete with. We can either cut this program now or wait until the team does not have anyone to compete against.”

Board president Dr. Ron Long also believes that almost all the proposed athletic program cuts should be considered.

“I believe that we should definitely consider cutting these proposed athletic programs except for swimming,” Long said. “Although, I think we need to let the swimming program that they are on notice and that they could be potentially cut if the swimming pool expense continues to go up. We simply cannot afford to pay for it.”

Board member Brittney Rutter also believes that the board needs to make the decision to cut some of the athletic programs.

“Cutting 15% from all of the athletic programs is not a long-term solution,” Rutter said. “I think that we need to hold onto swimming for a year due to the high participation but I think we need to cut some of the programs to give us a long-term solution.”

Board member Dr. Dennis Plane had a different suggestion that could potentially allow some of the programs to not be cut.

“I think that we need to seriously consider a tax raise in the future,” Plane said. “It will need to go on the ballot and if the voters say no, then we can decide to make cuts to the athletic programs. I think that we should inform these athletic programs that they are on notice to be cut and see if the boosters will step forward and help. I know that we cannot do a tax raise this year but we should work on that process now for next year.”

After the board discussed how it could potentially cut the athletic budget, they then suggested other cuts that could be made to the budget.

“I think that we need to seriously consider our field trip budget,” Dell stated. “I understand how important field trips are but we need to cut this budget somehow.”

District business manager Faith Swanson discussed how they could potentially cut the field trip budget.

“We do not want to cut the life skills part of the field trip budget,” Swanson said. “If we were to make any cuts to this budget, it would need to come from the middle school and high school part of this budget.”

The board decided to see what the field trip budget would look like with a 50% decrease to the high school and middle school field trip budget and will be presented at next week’s work session meeting.

The board will continue to discuss what cuts they can do to lower the budget deficit at next week’s work session meeting at 7 p.m. Monday, May 10, in the high school library and via Zoom. The board will decide on final cuts to the budget at their voting session at 7 p.m. Monday, May 17, in the high school library and via Zoom. If anyone is interested in attending a board meeting in person, they are asked to contact the district office, as limited seating is available due to social distancing guidelines.

Kylie can be reached at kyoung@huntingdondailynews.com.