CLARION - Clarion County's population decline reported in the 2020 census may change the county's status from a sixth-class county to a seventh-class county.
The county's population stood at 37,241 in the 2020 census, a decrease of about 2,000 from the 2010 population of about 39,000.
Clarion County Commissioner Ted Tharan said the county has been notified it could become a seventh-class county.
"I don't think there is any benefit to that," said Tharan. "Our solicitor will give us an opinion on that after Thanksgiving."
"We really have not been a sixth class county for quite a while," said commissioner Wayne Brosius. "We just never changed it."
The Pennsylvania County Code says a sixth-class county has a population of 45,000 to 90,000 and a seventh-class county has a population of 20,000 to 45,000.
The commissioners would decide the change in status.
Tharan questioned if every county resident was accounted for.
"Did they count the Amish?" he asked. "With the COVID did they knock on every door?"
Tharan said Clarion University students could have registered either as residents in Clarion or at their homes. When the census was taken many students were taking classes virtually and were not physically at the university.
"It is a tough problem," said Brosius. "We are constantly engaged in economic development. If we bring in good jobs we believe people will come here."
Brosius said the county is also involved with tourism.
"We feel that if we can get people to visit the area then they may consider moving here," he said. "We have a lot to offer. We have natural beauty and a good transportation network."
Community Development Block Grant allocations are linked to census numbers, and the county applied Tuesday for CDBG funds in the amount of $447,925.
Clarion Borough and Clarion Township are considered entitlement communities and receive CDBG funds directly. Population numbers determine entitlement communities.
The remaining CDBG funds are distributed among the county's other municipalities.
Trail grant application approved
The board of commissioners also approved a $1.5 million PennDOT Set-Aside Grant Application for Brady Tunnel Phase III.
It is an investment by the state the commissioners hope will have a healthy return for the county.
The Pittsburgh to Erie Trail passes through the Brady Tunnel. The trail is expected to benefit the region.
Chris Ziegler, executive Director of Armstrong Trails, said a similar trail, the Pittsburgh to Washington, D.C. trail had 1.5 million users in 2020, with 200,000 of them staying overnight on multi-day trips. She said trail users spend about $124 a day or about $56 million a year.
Tharan said the motels, restaurants, bed and breakfasts along the trail would benefit from the trail traffic.
"Someone could even start a shuttle service to the motels," he said. "This opens up a lot of opportunities."
The Pittsburgh to Erie trail is restricted to hikers and bikers. Low wattage E-Bikes are permitted but horses are not.
The application approved by the commissioners is pending a memorandum of understanding and legal review. There is no required match.
The grant would aid in the completion of the Brady Tunnel. The tunnel renovation project started in 2019 and is estimated to cost $7 million.
Ziegler expects the project to be fully funded by the middle of next year. She said construction finished the end of 2020 with the installation of a liner in parts of the tunnel.
"The DCNR application, a set-aside application and a multi-modal application would get the liner completed," she said.
Ziegler said no work was being done in the center of the tunnel because "we're not fixing something that doesn't need to be fixed."
She said the final phase would include asphalt, trail, and"moon" lighting. The trail also incorporates several historical features including a restored railroad turntable.
"We should have a very busy 2022 construction season and should be open at the end of 2022 or early 2023," she said.