Benner Township orders halt to trail rides

A Benner Township hayride operation has been sent a cease and desist order following a conditional use hearing Monday, a township supervisor said.

Nittany Mountain Trail Rides Inc., an organization headed by R.B. Powell that offers hayrides about 6 miles west of Bellefonte, started taking criticism from local residents regarding the level of noise they say can be heard from the property.

The rides are popular with Penn State students, many of whom residents said arrive in the area highly intoxicated.

A conditional use hearing was held as part of the normal application to operate an event like a hayride, Supervisor Randy Moyer said.

According to Powell, who spoke at a Planning Commission meeting on Oct. 27, hayrides have been part of the organization since the 1980s. He used to operate in the Stormstown area until development forced him to seek other land.

His son George owns the property where the rides take place now, he said. This hayride season, which typically runs from September through Thanksgiving vacation, is the first at the new property.

The “sensational” accusations made against the hayride at the hearing were “completely off the wall,” Powell said Thursday.

“Two-thirds of our hayrides do not drink,” he said. “We have honor societies, we have business associations and conferences from Toftrees. We have all those types of things.”

Everyone at the hearing wanted to talk about drunken hayrides, he said, likening it to going to a restaurant but only talking about the hot dogs.

“Really, we are doing a great job and have a lot of allies at the university that say we are controlling the drinking considerably better than anyone else in the town does,” he said, adding that “thousands of dollars” is being spent on security — including trail cams and guards — to make sure the riders behave themselves.

Powell also said he has been working with the Penn State offices of Greek life and student activities to change the drinking behaviors of the students who visit the ride.

Minutes for the Monday hearing were not available at press time.

According to Moyer, when the proposal for the hayride was brought to the township, it was described as taking “some Cub Scouts out, some Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts; we have a little campfire and sing with the banjo.”

What the township didn’t know, he said, was that Powell would be running a commercial business.

“When the neighbors started coming in and the issue became known, it was nothing like it was described to the township,” he said.

According to Moyer, the cease and desist order was sent via registered mail and regular mail some time on Tuesday or Wednesday morning following the hearing.

“I’m saying this isn’t what our zoning says,” he said. “You can’t operate before there is a conditional use hearing.

“A hayride for Boy Scouts here and there, anyone can do that. What’s going on there with busloads of people, that just doesn’t fit the bill.”

The township will continue to gather information, Moyer said, and encourages public comments during this time.

In the meantime, the township has to find out the conditions of the zoning ordinance, then have the issue reviewed by its solicitor. It then will go back to the Planning Commission before a second conditional use hearing is scheduled.

“We’re not trying to be unfriendly to businesses,” he said, “but you’ve got to be forthright with what you’re doing up front.”

Powell said he hadn’t yet received the cease and desist order Thursday. But, he said, he would comply with any rules and laws.

He said when the land was purchased, the realtors, previous owners and township supervisors were made well-aware of what his intentions were.

“This comes as a surprise,” he said, “because we would have never invested that kind of money had we not had this approval ahead of time.”