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Mines and Meadows ATV - RV Resort, Wampum, Pennsylvania
Mines and Meadows ATV - RV Resort, Wampum, Pennsylvania
Not a conventional umbrellas-in-your-drink resort, this rough-cut, rough-riding gem in the hills north of Pittsburgh is a real find.
Mines and Meadows, the vision of entrepreneur and motorsports aficionado Robert Svihra, is a self service “resort” for fans of dirt bikes and UTVs. Family members who are already motorheads will have a blast at this 500-acre off road vehicle paradise. Those who aren’t will have ample opportunity to try a range of vehicles, learn how to ride, and fall in love with mud on a memorable family adventure vacation.
Before we get too far, a word about the TLAs (three-letter acronyms) that motorheads love: OHV = off-highway vehicle; ATV = all terrain vehicle; UTV = utility terrain vehicle; 4x4 = 4WD = four wheel drive; RUV = recreational utility vehicle, same as an SxS = side by side, which is a two-passenger ATV with a ROPS (a roll cage or roll over protective structure.)
M&M: A Motorhead Playground
Mines and Meadows is a find for motorsports fans whose playgrounds are constantly encroached upon by urban sprawl. Conveniently located in western Pennsylvania, it draws riders from Ohio, West Virginia, Maryland, New Jersey and New York. Although the wear and tear these vehicles cause can damage many fragile environments and wildlife habitats, the clever reuse of the Underland Development Company’s former mining complex could be considered an environmental rescue effort. Rock walls throughout the property -- once ugly scars from coal strip mining -- are now gently overgrown with flowers and shrubs and provide beautiful hill climbing challenges and jumps. Access routes brutally carved through stands of trees now provide a labyrinth of dirt trails that become delightfully muddy bogs with the slightest rain.
The gently rolling land has steep valleys, creeks fed by the Beaver River, a beaver dam, waterfalls, some old mining buildings, farms, power lines, sinkholes and, most interestingly for enthusiasts, an abandoned limestone mine whose 45 acres of hollows (and a 3-acre freshwater lake!) provide unusual riding terrain.
Once owned by the Crescent Cement Company, the mines were carved under the 65-acre parcel of land that now belongs to Svihra’s partner, Steve Grinnen. Like enormous stalagmites, limestone pillars more than 50 feet in circumference support a blasted-out ceiling. The base of the dank, dark labyrinth is marked by ruts, piles of stone, and pools of water. To me, a novice at both ATVs and mining, riding underground alternated between awe at this hellacious cathedral and fear at having to hug the gas tank to get through certain entryways. The mine is illuminated only by the headlights of other vehicles and for the safety of guests, riders can only enter on a guided tour. John Takas, the long-time Mines and Meadows guide, has led many families into this hole.
Altogether, the resort's 45 miles of trails provide dirt and stone routes for all ability levels, groomed for safety, and mapped from easy to difficult with green, blue and black markers. As much fun as the mud pockets and deeply rutted paths are fields of boulders, patches of shale, wide open meadows, and groomed, 48-inch-wide trails twisting between saplings and the roots of old oaks. The North Country National Scenic Trail crosses the property, connecting hiking trails that run through seven states, three National Parks, eight National Forests, and one National Grassland.
ATVs Appeal to All Ages and All Abilities
"We get people from all walks of life here, from 8 to 81-years-old," notes Bob Svihra, "and 40% are women." Resort guests are evenly divided between dirt bike and UTV riders, but the variety of UTVs he sees -- from single-seater ATVs, to side-by-sides, to dune buggies -- is much greater. "I'm proud to say we have four paraplegic ex-military who ride here, too," he adds.
Family members who don’t arrive with their own ATV or dirt bike in tow can rent one of seven Yamaha ATV 400s ($120/four hours; 18-years-old minimum) from Mines and Meadows' on-site fleet and use it for classes as well. Courtesy of our host, Kawasaki Motors Corp, I rode a Kawasaki Prairie 360 4x4 that, for my 120-pound frame, had plenty of muscle to deliver a safe and stable ride in the mines and above ground on the trails. (Major manufacturers recommend that ATVs with engines of 90cc or higher be used by riders 16-years and up, though smaller children's models are available for ages 6 and older.)
Soon Mines and Meadows will feature a 2009 Teryx, Kawasaki's latest model two-seater, digital fuel injection RUV in its rental pool. It’s ideal for parents who want to ride with children (or reluctant spouses) as passengers, or head out into the wild to camp.
Although the Kawasaki Teryx features three-point retractable seatbelts, comfortable bucket seats, and foot wells on the floor to help secure smaller passengers, Stephen Clark of Off-road.com recommends the installation of harnesses to anyone contemplating "aggressive" sport riding. With a powerful 749cc V-Twin engine, the Teryx is also capable of hauling up to 500 lbs. in cargo, making it as utilitarian as Kawasaki's durable Mule (the utility vehicle our son learned to drive on) and much better looking.
Edu-tainment and Edu-cation
One of the biggest assets of a family vacation here is that ATV and dirt bike lessons are available for all ages from the resort’s two instructors, Ron Dennison (330/542-2747 at home or 330/717-8710 – cell) and Eric Dennison (724/843-4647 at the office, 330/881-8047 cell, firstname.lastname@example.org), by appointment. Both are instructors licensed by the ATV Safety Institute and Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, and lead the regulation ATV Safety Institute Training courses sponsored by Kawasaki and other major ATV manufacturers.
Students completing the ATV safety course will also be given a 20% discount toward the purchase of a Mines and Meadows Day Pass. As a motorheads’ paradise, Mines and Meadows also offer an "ATV Search & Rescue Training" program to first responders and military personnel, which the public is welcome to join. This course lasts approximately four hours and costs $50 per student plus any rental costs. Reservations required for all programs.
Mines and Meadows (732/535-6026) is located at 1307 Old Route 18, Wampum, PA 16157; GPS coordinates N40 51.847 W80 19.933. The property is open daily from 9am till sunset, rain, shine or snow.
Riders and passengers should “dress for the crash and not for the ride” as Joe Tripp, one of our favorite instructors, used to say. Experienced motorheads usually arrive with leather safety pads to strap on over abrasion-resistant clothing. I wore ExOficio hiking pants, over-the-ankle boots, and a few sweatshirts under a washable micro-fiber jacket. Kids should always be dressed in long sleeves and pants regardless of the weather. Gloves, helmet and eye protection are a must, for all ages and abilities.
If your RV has you and your OHVs in tow, it will cost $20/night to park it. If it’s just the family in a car with the gear to camp out, it costs $20 to pitch a tent. While facilities are not as developed as Mines and Meadows' owners anticipate, at present, there are primitive campsites, bathrooms and porta-potties, power wash and storage for your vehicles, and box lunches available through the trailer-office.
We stayed at the Marriott Pittsburgh North (724/772-3700) at 100 Cranberry Woods Drive, Cranberry Township, PA 16066, about equidistant from all of Pittsburgh’s major sights and the Mines and Meadows resort. Like other Marriott’s, it had large bedrooms with two queens beds, a well-stocked fitness center and indoor pool, plus a business center and hearty breakfast buffet included in reasonable rates.
Other comfortable options in this busy region near the Greater Pittsburgh Airport are the Hyatt Place Pittsburgh/Cranberry (724/779-7900) located at 136 Emeryville Drive, Cranberry Township, PA 16066 and the Red Roof Inn Pittsburgh North - Cranberry Township (724/776-5670) at 20009 US Rt 19 and Marguerite Road, Cranberry Township, PA 16066. Even less expensive is the Beaver Falls Super 8 (724/843-9300). All are less than 30 minutes from the resort and BeaveRun, a popular motorsports complex.
In fact, BeaveRun (724/535-1000) is its own motorheads' haven, with an industry favorite go-kart track and rental Birel karts; frequent scheduled car and bike races; defensive winter driving school; a James Bond Evasive Driving clinic and more. Budget another day for this place; the go-kart racing is great fun and a relatively risk free way to expose smaller children to motor vehicle driving.
If you choose the hotel option, Mines Meadows' trail access passes cost $25/day per rider, or $40 for a weekend. As for the "resort" aspect of this unusual complex – it's pet-friendly, casual and cheap, with communal campfires, horseshoes and volleyball, and nearby fishing, canoeing, kayaking and golf.