Benezette

Benezette is a small township with some really big residents — Pennsylvania’s elk herd. The township has been granted state funds to re-do Winslow Hill Road, where the elk are plentiful.

Benezette Township in Elk County got some welcome news from Gov. Tom Wolf on Thursday. After years of trying, they’ve finally been granted state funds to reconstruct Winslow Hill Road.

Pam Winslow-Mong, township supervisor, secretary, and member of the Winslow family whose name graces the road, told The Era this $2.9 million will join $1 million from the state Department of Community and Economic Development to pay for the whole project.

“The infrastructure was never set up for the traffic it gets,” Mong said.

That’s because Winslow Hill is the best place around to see the elk herd that makes Elk County its home, and is the only road to the Elk Country Visitor Center, which boasts visitation in the hundreds of thousands annually.

The project, which Mong said is scheduled to begin next spring, is long overdue.

“They are going to do the entire hill, all the way around Winslow Hill all the way to Grant,” she explained, for a total of 5.6 miles. “Winslow Hill is in terrible shape. This project is supposed to widen the road, we’re supposed to get lines on the road. There will be a drainage project, several pull-offs.”

The road now doesn’t have enough room for all the traffic, especially in the fall, during rut, when motorists park on both sides just to watch the elk.

“Several times over the past few years, an ambulance tried to get up there and couldn’t,” Mong said.

Safety is an issue, too, as the road is crumbling in places, and some people are watching the elk rather than where they are going.

“This is something we’ve been trying to do for years,” Mong said. The county’s grant writer, Jody Foster, has submitted applications for four years running to try to help get funding.

“We’re just thrilled to death that we got this funding,” Mong said.

“It’s something you have to see for yourself, just how bad this road is,” she added.

A lifelong resident of Benezette, Mong said it can be frustrating dealing with the “other” residents of the area.

“I love to landscape. I used to have a garden. I used to have bird feeders,” she said with a laugh. The elk are used to people to the degree that they make themselves home anywhere they like. And they are quarter-ton opportunists, helping themselves to gardens, flowers, birdseed or whatever plant, grass, leaves or bark strikes their fancy. “They are kind of a nuisance, but it’s good for our little township’s economy.”

In her opinion, she said, she doesn’t believe the road work will impact the animals much. After all, the steady stream of people hasn’t.

The road project will also include “daylighting,” the process of removing trees next to the roads to allow for sunlight. This dries the roads quicker and prevents water from standing on the road surface.

While the project is slated for next year, there is a little over half a mile of road that must be addressed sooner. Mong said, “We just finished a bid on Tuesday for .66 miles of road out there that is crumbling.”

They will use part of the $1 million in state funds already in-hand to address that. “It’s something that desperately needs done,” she added.

“We’re really thrilled about this money and the fact we can get this road done.”

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