JIM THORPE, CARBON COUNTY (WBRE/WYOU)– The Lehigh Gorge Scenic Railway has brought more than one million people into Jim Thorpe over the last 15 years and strengthened municipal, county and regional tourism–but an announcement Wednesday has the railway pulling away from the station.
Owners of the Leigh Gorge Scenic Railway and the borough of Jim Thorpe are at a crossroads. Their dispute over tax dollars is threatening local tourism.
“There’s an issue with the borough’s interpretation of money that’s owed for back tax, amusement tax,” said deputy chief of staff for state senator John Yudichak and Jim Thorpe resident, Bill Richards. “The railroad’s opinion is it’s not an amusement. He’s a freight line and he’s doing this for the tourism and the residents.”
The railroad’s owner Andy Muller Jr. said Wednesday that passenger operations for the scenic railway will cease in November.
“While I feel terrible for our loyal employees, our repeat customers, and Jim Thorpe merchants who have supported our excursion trains, there is no reason for us to stay where we are not welcome,” the statement read.
This could send the local economy off its tracks.
“Really, it’s going to be devastating for tax dollars in general to the town because all of these businesses will be making less money if less people come here–and less tourist dollars will be spent,” said co-owner of Pocono Whitewater and Pocono Biking, Sierra Fogal.
“If this isn’t figured out, the local businesses and local economy are going to take a huge, huge beating,” added owner and operator of Molly Maguires, Darren Behan. “I have a bird’s eye view of these trains, every day, and I know how many people ride them because I’ve done my research. It’s going to affect my business, terribly and it’s going to affect the whole economic demographics.”
Failure to come to a compromise would be a blow to tourism that reaches far beyond Carbon County.
“We came here to experience that and I hope that it will be experienced like that for generations to come,” said Laurie Posner, who specifically visited Jim Thorpe on the day of the announcement to ride that scenic railway.
It’s estimated that the Lehigh Gorge Scenic Railway brings in roughly 150,000 tourists per year to Jim Thorpe. There are plans in the works to bring everyone to the table, resolve this issue, and for the economy’s sake, cooler heads may prevail.