Boozy hayrides sour neighbors to Benner Township business

Nittany Mountain Trail Rides Inc., a hayride service outside Bellefonte, has been gathering a large crowd during the inaugural season at its new location.

But those crowds are exactly the problem, according to those who live near where the rides begin and end.

On Thursday, residents of the area took their concerns to the Benner Township Planning Commission, which is considering an agritourism ordinance that could allow the rides to continue.

According to R.B. Powell, who operates the trail rides, hayrides have been part of the organization since the 1980s. They 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.

Neighbors of the property, however, have become concerned about the level of noise that can be heard from the ride area. The rides are popular with Penn State students, many of whom, residents said, arrive in the area highly intoxicated.

Students are not allowed to have alcohol on the ride, according to the trail ride website, but one keg of beer is allowed for every 50 students, according to Powell.

“I was told by George that the noise would be minimal,” nearby resident Jeff Lucas said. “That seems not to be the case because it’s pretty loud. Other concerns I have is the … drunken people running around in the woods.”

Lucas and other residents also expressed concerned that the secluded nature of their homes would make them targets for break-ins.

“I wonder if any of the commissioners (would like) a neighbor who had a party, sometimes five times a week, and not only had a party, but bused hundreds of students into basically our backyard,” resident John Marchek said.

Powell said that before starting the rides on the property, they considered whether the area was isolated and whether the operation would be legal.

“We came to the zoning officers and asked if this would be acceptable, and they said yes,” he said.

“There are parts of it that are not acceptable, and we’re working on these things,” he said.

Powell defended allowing some drinking on the property, once bused in, as a way of keeping students from drinking then driving.

“I think people are getting too bent out of shape about the beer,” he said. “We’re just trying to provide them a safe place if they want to drink beer.”

He said that if the hayrides were to shut down, it would be hit to his organization of a few hundred thousand dollars.

According to commission Chairman Nate Campbell, the board initially thought the agritourism aspect was already part of the zoning, so Powell was told he would be able to operate rides from the property.

“Agritourism is good for the township,” he said, “and good for the farmers.”

Campbell said the commission will discuss some controls on the activity, such as requiring a fence around the property, how late the rides can operate and allowing alcohol to be consumed, before sending a recommendation to the Board of Supervisors, which is scheduled to meet Nov. 3.