Towamensing Trails, a Penn Forest Township, Carbon County residential community, is the subject of an article in the Summer 2010 edition of the National Fire Protection Association's Firewise newsletter on preventing forest fires.

The article, Engaging Absentee Owners & Part-time Residents, was based on a Firewise project led by Ron McCuen - liaison for the Firewise Committee for Towamensing Trails, and Wes Keller - Forest Fire Specialist Supervisor, Forest District 18, Pennsylvania Bureau of Forestry.

Towamensing Trails is a development of 4,096 property owners with approximately 2,300 homes. Only about 450 are permanent residents, about one-tenth of homeowners. Towamensing Trails covers more than 3,000 forested acres, most of which is unattended except on summer weekends. Over time, the accumulation of downed limbs and small trees, and the unfamiliarity with burn bans leads to an increased probability of a wildfire.

"Engaging these part-time and seasonal owners regarding the need for ongoing maintenance of a fire-safe home environment has been a challenge," noted Keller. "The Firewise community has employed a variety of approaches to meet this challenge. Some of the tactics included producing a bimonthly newsletter mailed directly to property owners' homes and available on the community's website, and using the two most-attended event-their annual meeting and a Fun Day held in midsummer-for disseminating critical Firewise information and encouraging voluntarism.

"We typically hold meetings during weekends and holidays, when the part-time residents are in residence," said McCuen. "Between 250 and 350 attend the annual meeting, while Fun Day attracts as many as 500 to 600 participants."

"At the Fun Day, we focus on reaching the children who, in turn, encourage their parents to get involved," said Keller. "The event consists of the three local volunteer fire companies: Penn Forest #1, Penn Forest #2, and Albrightsville. They bring various equipment to show the kids and parents and a safety trailer offering information and interactive activities, along with a costumed fire dog named Sparky, a motorized fire car with a dog, and Smokey the Bear to entertain and educate the kids."

Throughout the year, property owners must obtain a fire permit before starting an open fire. The permit explains the fire regulations along with information about contacts and equipment that must have on-hand. If a fire ban is declared by the Association, signs are posted at entrances, bulletin boards, and trash facilities. A fine of $500 is imposed for any violators.

"Last year, we offered residents a low cost service to clear downed limbs and small trees from their lots," said Keller. "A number of lot owners, many of whom had not seen their lots for years, took advantage of this opportunity. With a grant from the state, the community teamed with Youth Services Agency to provide chipping services in common areas throughout the development.

McCuen received a to provide a chipping service to residents of Towamensing Trails who suffered downed tree damage from the 2005 ice storm. Using teams of up to eight from nearby Youth Services Agency supervised by the Towamensing Trails maintenance staff, the debris was chipped during the summer of 2009, and began again in the spring of 2010.

As a result of the program, Towamensing Trails has expanded their relationship with YSA and is arraigning for more of their kids to work in their summertime maintenance program. McCuen said that he landscaping and safety skills have helped the youths to find jobs upon returning to their communities.