by Kyle Buchter
Quadratec Channel Correspondent
What is it about Centralia, Pennsylvania that draws people to see a broken asphalt road?
Is it the lure of decades-old underground fires that are still burning today, which caused the government to wipe this town off the map?
Is it the mystery of a real life ‘ghost town', where steam rising from the town’s graveyard almost feels like the devil itself reaching up from the underground fires to digest what is left of this once booming town?
Or perhaps it is a nearly three-quarter mile stretch of the original Route 61, now crumbling from all those underground fires, that has become a canvas for graffiti artists. From political messages and RIPs, to peace signs and R-rated images, ‘Graffiti Highway’ has become part of history itself.
So back to the original question—what is it about Centralia that draws people?
According to the Pennsylvania State Police, Graffiti Highway is not open to the public per the property owner. And yet, thousands walk along that stretch of road despite the numerous ‘No Trespassing’ signs. Have you seen them? No? Look harder.
Additionally, have you heard of ‘The Island’, ‘Concrete City’ or the late, great Paragon Off Road Park—a place once considered the best spot to four wheel on the East Coast?
The names are all intriguing and make us want to go explore these mysterious locations. To get that picture of our Jeep with a Concrete City behind it, or on this ‘Island’.
What do all these places have in common with Centralia’s Graffiti Highway? Mystery? Adventure? Maybe, but the common thread with all these locations is they are all closed to the public. No trespassing signs reinforce this fact, but sadly they are often overlooked and not respected.
Chances are, there are many of these type locations in your area as well, especially if you like in the eastern half of the United States.
You make ask ‘what is the big deal’ if you drive past no trespassing signs. Well, if the risk of the earth opening and swallowing you up into fire doesn’t alarm you, then maybe these facts will:
Trespassers give everyone in the four-wheeling community a bad name on so many levels. First is image. When off-roaders drive past these signs, we are all automatically lumped together as being troublemakers, hellions, or a menace to society. With trespassing often comes illegal dumping. Take a look at pictures of Centralia and you will quickly see that just about all of Tread Lightly's principals have been thrown out the door. Rubbish of all types can be found littered along the road. And trash dumping isn't the only illegal activity that occurs on many of these properties. It is definitely not a place to take the family for a fun day out on the trail.
Second is progression. We would all love to have more open areas on the East Coast to go off road—and the opportunity is a reality, but when land owners see the results of what trespassers do, they stop all lines of communication.
In the east, we do not have the same set up as the western United States has regarding land management and usage. There simply is almost no public land. However, East Coast off-road enthusiasts do have designated off road parks that offer legal four wheeling at a small price. Some of these parks have thousands of acres with various types of terrain that is available to explore.
So, what are these parks missing that places like Centralia and Paragon have, that draw people to trespass? Mystery? History?
Famous Reading Outdoors, located in central PA, has coal running through its blood with a history that spans almost 150 years in the coal industry. Guaranteed there is mystery running through those veins.
Anthracite Outdoor Adventure Area was built on 7,500 acres of that same coal region, and has been a model for the positive things that can come from the four wheeling community through conservation and restoration.
When you think of East Coast wheeling, Rausch Creek Off Road Park is often at the top of everyone's list. It is home to three Jeep Badge of Honor trails as well as ones called Cemetery, Area 51 and Snake Bite. Not sure what those are? Well, let the mystery and adventure begin at Rausch Creek.
So what can you do as a law-abiding four-wheeler to help improve the present and future of four wheeling?
The answer—a lot.
Pledge to uphold the Tread Lightly rules. That doesn’t mean just doing things like packing out what you take in, or educating yourself on how to properly use equipment. It also means respecting the rights of others—which includes private property owners. And, of course, supporting and respecting your legal off road parks. Additionally, taking part in a cleanup event such as the Quadratec trail cleanup this May, is a great way to reinforce four-wheel responsibility. Most likely, you'll have a local Jeep club or group promoting a similar event in your region.
Another thing you can do is get to know your area and understand what places to avoid. Stay way from groups, clubs or any company that rides in places that are illegal/not open to the public. They say they have permission? Unless it is in writing don’t believe anyone. Centralia gets that stereotype—the whole ‘I have never been chased off so it can’t be illegal’ mantra.
We all have to combat off-road trespassing that happens, mostly, on the East Coast because it really hurts us everyone when someone from our community trespasses. These selfish acts serve to hurt all the progress we have made over the years, as well as the future of off-roading.
There are a lot of coal mining, forests, forgotten and other land simply not patrolled here in the east. Just because others find their way on that land, and it does not have a full time security staff, doesn’t give anyone the right to use that property. Direct permission is needed from the owner to the people actually on the property—not simply saying a friend’s aunt’s cousin said we could. If there are local clubs that go to suspect areas, then ask if they actually have permission. No sense in taking a risk that could turn around hurt the entire community.
All of us who are passionate about off-roading need to band together, and increase our areas we can legally off-road with permission and awareness. And always strive to be the presentable off-road enthusiast who people want coming to their respective properties.
Remember, it is not about you—it is about all of us.