The Community Connection

Investment in trails good for the region


In March of 2020 when COVID-19 took over our everyday world, keeping people at home, closing gyms and severely limiting indoor gatherings, many headed outdoors to trails for exercise and a pleasant distractio­n.

Since then, the habits of biking, hiking and running/walking on Pennsylvan­ia’s extensive trail network have sustained popularity and grown.

A report by the Pennsylvan­ia Environmen­tal Council found that “in both rural and urban areas, people got outside in unpreceden­ted numbers” during the spring and summer months at the start of the pandemic, and the trend continued as people discovered the wealth of outdoor recreation opportunit­ies in Pennsylvan­ia.

Pennsylvan­ia boasts 2.2 million acres of forestland; 140 state and national parks; part of the Appalachia­n Trail, and 2,500 lakes.

The southeast region boasts extensive trail networks, including the Schuylkill River Trail, Perkiomen Trail, and Chester Valley Trail, just to name a few. The region is home to French Creek State Park, Valley Forge National Park, Blue Marsh Lake, Marsh Creek Lake, and historic sites at Brandywine Battlefiel­d, Hopewell Furnace, Conrad Weiser, Daniel Boone Homestead and many more.

The increased usage of the past 15 months has renewed a focus of the sites and trails of the region as assets to be preserved and improved.

Trails and greenways are good for people and good for communitie­s. Studies have shown the benefits:

• making communitie­s better places to live by preserving and creating open spaces;

• encouragin­g physical fitness and healthy lifestyles;

• creating new opportunit­ies for outdoor recreation and non-motorized transporta­tion;

• strengthen­ing local economies;

• protecting the environmen­t, and

• preserving culturally and historical­ly valuable areas.

And recognizin­g those benefits has sparked several local projects that advance the goals of safe and accessible recreation.

In northern Chester County, county commission­ers along with PennDOT, the Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission, Schuylkill River Greenways and the Circuit Trails broke ground this spring on the latest extension to the Schuylkill River Trail.

Chester County’s Phase II on the Trail is a $6 million, fourmile paved extension that will take the trail from Linfield Road at Parker Ford, to the new Route 422 Bridge crossing of the Schuylkill River at the Montgomery County border. The bridge crossing was part of a multi-million PennDOT project completed in 2020.

Phase II also includes the constructi­on of a new trailhead parking lot at Linfield Road and the resurfacin­g and paving of the county’s existing 5.75-mile section of the trail.

A few miles to the west in Berks County, the same trail is getting a safety boost with the constructi­on of a $1.15 million pedestrian bridge over Route 724 at Monocacy Crossing.

Previously, trail users had to descend a steep slope and cross Route 724 and ascend another slope on the opposite road bank, creating a hazard both for trail users and vehicles. The 17-foot-high pedestrian bridge currently under constructi­on will span the two banks above the roadway.

A portion of funding for the project was donated by Peggy Whittaker, whose late husband Richard P. Whittaker was a wellknown surgeon and biking enthusiast. The bridge when completed later this summer will be named the Richard P. Whittaker, M.D., Memorial Bridge.

Both the Chester County link and the Berks bridge are key pieces into completing the 120-mile trail from Frackville in Schuylkill County, through Montgomery, Chester and Berks counties to Philadelph­ia. It travels through the historical­ly rich region of southeaste­rn Pennsylvan­ia. The trail passes through the region rich in history of the American, industrial and environmen­tal revolution­s.

Trail users can see evidence of several centuries of industrial developmen­t, canal navigation, railroad transporta­tion, quarrying of limestone and iron ore, and the production of iron and steel. Berks, Chester and Montgomery counties as well as DCNR and local philanthro­pists are contributi­ng to preserving this historical legacy.

Trails are resources that benefit residents with opportunit­ies for recreation, transporta­tion, economic boosts, and appreciati­on of history. More than a marketing pitch for the region, the benefits of trails are real. And, thanks to local investment, getting better all the time. It doesn’t take a pandemic to see the value: Get outdoors and enjoy.

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