TOWANDA - A Bradford County government program, which has funded the development of hiking trails, the creation of educational signs for a public wetlands area and other environmental education projects, has ended, officials said.

The funding source for the Bradford County Environmental Education Grant Program - tipping fees that gas drilling companies paid to dispose of drill cutting waste at the Northern Tier Solid Waste Authority's landfill in West Burlington Township - has dried up, said Dan Rhodes, education coordinator for the Bradford County Conservation District.

"Gas companies have found other ways to get rid of their wastes," Rhodes said at the most recent meeting of the Bradford County commissioners. "They either send them out of state or recycle them now. So those tipping fees don't exist (anymore)."

Since the Bradford County Environmental Education Grant Program was established by the Bradford County commissioners in 2010, it has provided a total of $24,126 in grants for 24 different projects in Bradford County, Rhodes said.

"We were able to get a lot of projects done through this education (grant program)," Rhodes said. "It really benefited a lot of people."

For example, the program provided a $4,000 grant to the Towanda School District to create a walking trail on Towanda School District property in the woods behind Towanda High School, Rhodes said. The trail will have exercise equipment along it and signage relating to physical fitness and nature features along the trail, Rhodes said.

The trail, which will be used by the public and students, is still in the process of being developed, he said.

While the public is welcome to use the trail and the fitness equipment along the trail, the Towanda School District would prefer that the public use the trail during those times when students are not at school, such as on weekends, in the summer, or after 4 p.m. on weekdays during the school year, said Dennis Peachey, Towanda High School principal.

"If it's not possible to do that (use the trail when students are not at school), then we would ask the public if they could please check in" at the high school office to register their names before using the trail, he said.

"It's a safety and security issue," Peachey explained. "We want the public to use (the trail) but at the same time we would prefer (that they use it when students are not at school)."

Peachey said the signs for the Towanda School District trail still need to be installed. He said he hoped the trail would be completed and open for use by this spring or early summer.

The Bradford County program also provided $461 to the Carantouan Greenway to develop tree identification trails in Round Top Park in Athens Township and in Mt. Pisgah State Park.

Under the Carantouan project, numbered tags have been affixed to 25 types of common trees along trails in the two parks, said Marty Borko, vice-president of the Carantouan Greenway.

The tags correspond to descriptions of the trees that are contained in a brochure which can be printed from the Carantouan Greenway's website.

The tags, each of which has a number ranging from 1 to 25, allow the walker to identify the species of tree it is affixed to. The tags are easy to spot, as they are large, yellow, and diamond-shaped, Borko said.

Signs have also been installed on various places along the trails informing the public that they can download the brochure from the website, which is www.carantouangreenway.org.

The Carantouan project provides "an interesting and fun way to learn about trees," according to written information provided by the Bradford County Conservation District, which administered Bradford County's environmental education grant program.

The tree identification tags had previously been placed on trails in the Carantouan Greenway's 50-acre Wildwood Reserve on Shepard Road in the Town of Barton.

The Bradford County program also provided a $5,000 grant for the design and creation of new educational signs, which have been installed at the Bradford County Conservation District's Wilbur Beers family wetlands area on Lake Road in Wysox. A number of the new signs replaced signs that were in disrepair due to vandalism.

While the Bradford County environmental education grant program has ended, grant money for environmental education projects is still available from other sources, such as the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Education and the Pennsylvania Association of Conservation Districts, Rhodes said.

For information and assistance in obtaining environmental education grants from these other sources, contact Rhodes at the Bradford County Conservation District or Brian Driscoll at BLaST Intermediate Unit 17.

Besides funding environmental education projects, the tipping fees that NTSWA provided to Bradford County were also used to pay for improvements in local county parks and to assist ambulance companies and fire companies in paying for things like vehicles, equipment and training.

James Loewenstein can be reached at (570) 265-1633; or email: jloewenstein@thedailyreview.com.