This story was produced by the State College regional bureau of Spotlight PA, an independent, nonpartisan newsroom dedicated to investigative and public-service journalism for Pennsylvania. Sign up for our regional newsletter, Talk of the Town.
When Cris Dush’s state Senate district was redrawn to include part of Centre County last year, the Republican went door to door to connect with new constituents.
Dush met with residents at a pizza shop in Snow Shoe, located just off Interstate 80, to hear more about how the rural community has lost critical businesses in the past few years, including its only grocery store, pharmacy, and medical center.
An electrical fire in 2020 destroyed Hall’s Market, True Value Hardware, Jersey Shore Bank, and a Subway. Then, the only pharmacy closed. Later, the lone medical center also left, citing a decline in patients and revenue. And a local restaurant followed suit earlier this year.
After years of hardship in the Mountaintop region, Dush (R., Jefferson) and first-term state Rep. Paul Takac (D., Centre) — who vowed to prioritize the community despite winning roughly 30% of the vote in Snow Shoe — are helping to deliver aid from the state.
Brought together by the overlap in their districts, the pair have put partisanship aside. They see their position as lawmakers as an opportunity to secure development grants, lobby for state money to buy new equipment, and find ways to bring new businesses to the area.
“We work together as a team,” Dush told Spotlight PA of his relationship with Takac. “We’ve got to get this stuff done, and we got to take care of our people — when people are suffering from not having proper health care and not having access to food, especially when they’re elderly and have to travel long distances.”
With a population of roughly 3,000, the Mountaintop region includes Snow Shoe borough, Snow Shoe Township, and Burnside Township. Snow Shoe borough is contained within the township of the same name. All have individual local governing boards.
The new representation in Harrisburg has given local leaders hope that their community is finally a priority.
“We’ve hoped somebody would come here to try to do something,” Rodney Preslovich, who chairs the Snow Shoe Township Board of Supervisors, told Spotlight PA.
Before redistricting, the once-a-decade process to redraw political lines, Mountaintop residents were represented by state Rep. Stephanie Borowicz, a Republican who now represents Clinton and Union Counties, and now-retired state Senate President Pro Tempore Jake Corman, also a Republican.
Through a spokesperson, Borowicz cited a grant for drinking water infrastructure as something she helped bring to the area. She added that she worked to recruit someone into buying the grocery store to reopen it, “but so far, no one has stepped in,” she told Spotlight PA.
The township supervisors said that calls to Borowicz went unreturned. Corman would help, they said, but only if the township reached out first.
Corman told Spotlight PA that he was “always there to help” in Snow Shoe, citing his involvement in trying to bring more reliable medical care to the area after the center closed.
“Obviously, it’s a big district,” he said. “Sometimes they reach out; sometimes we reach out.”
Snow Shoe Fire Chief Beau Martin said he never had a problem reaching Borowicz, who secured funding for Snow Shoe’s fire and ambulance companies, but added that he sees the new lawmakers in the community more often.
Dush and Takac have helped obtain funding for local infrastructure projects, including repairs at the Snow Shoe Township building, upgrades at the Moshannon Community Center, and a new leaf collection truck for Snow Shoe borough.
“For me, this is an enormous opportunity and a privilege to be able to show that there are people who are interested in wanting to help, that there are programs, there is funding, there are opportunities to improve the quality of life for the residents in those areas,” Takac told Spotlight PA. “And I don’t think that sense of optimism was there.”
Mountaintop residents have dealt with water infrastructure issues for years, specifically having to conserve water and operate under boil advisories due to poor quality.
In the past five years, the water authority has used state funding to install additional meters for monitoring water flow. But elected leaders said continued improvements are crucial for recruiting new businesses.
Ronald Bucha, a township supervisor, thinks an industrial park would thrive in Snow Shoe.
Still in the works — and a top need for residents — is access to fresh food. Since the fire, people have had to travel at least 30 minutes to access essentials not sold at Dollar General.
Officials at every level of government, including U.S. Rep. Glenn Thompson (R., Pa.), are working to launch a food co-op to fill the void left by Hall’s Market closing.
Co-ops can help fill in gaps in the food system, a need that is especially important in rural areas where residents are typically older and might struggle to travel long distances for groceries and other necessities. They’re typically managed and used by community members.
The Keystone Development Center, a Lancaster County-based agricultural co-op, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture are also involved in the Snow Shoe development plans.
The planned co-op doesn’t have a definite timeline or distribution plan yet, but the next step is forming a steering committee of local leaders, Takac said.
A meeting to discuss the committee is scheduled for later this month.
“We are there to assist and to help, but this is going to be a community initiative,” he said.
Local officials decide and direct most community development. They’re particularly responsible for zoning decisions and applying for grants, which can be a lengthy and complex process for local governments that are run primarily by volunteers.
Snow Shoe is no exception, but Dush and Takac have alleviated some of the burden.
Sandra Reiter and Tauni Bowling, who serve on the Snow Shoe Borough Council, said their latest elected officials in Harrisburg have brought a new level of communication to the region by sharing grant opportunities and other resources.
Takac, in particular, has established office hours, where he or a staff member sets up shop at the township building, usually every other week, to help constituents with taxes, renew drivers’ licenses, and answer questions.
“We’ve never had that before,” Preslovich said.
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