ON THE RIGHT TRAIL
Newest section of 130-mile path opens in Chester County
EAST COVENTRY » A new $6 million, four-mile section of the Schuylkill River Trail was officially opened on Earth Day with a flurry of speeches, bike riding and the inescapable cutting of a ribbon.
The newest section of the trail, which will one day stretch 130 miles from Philadelphia to Schuylkill County, is located between Linfield Road and Fricks Lock Village.
The remaining two miles to the Route 422 bridge that will carry the trail back over the Schuylkill River to Montgomery County outside Pottstown, is nearly complete and just needs a few final finishing touches, according to Josh Maxwell, vice chairman of the Chester County Board of Commissioners, who was on hand with his fellow commissioner, Michelle Kichline, for the ceremony.
“A lot of people think that building a trail is easy,” Maxwell told the crowd of about 100 wellwishers and enthusiasts. “But it’s not as easy and we all think it is.”
In addition to the many engineering factors, there is the attaining of legal easements, the building of parking lots and safe intersections and crossings Maxwell said.
“The benefits of having trails close to home are plenty and they are proven,” she said. “Trails provide safe places for physical activity, which can improve mental, as well as physical health.”
Trails also improve fiscal health.
“We know that ‘build it and they will come’ rings true when it comes to trails like this,” said Maxwell. “Evidence shows that the increase in length and reach of a trail will mean a growth in the number of visitors and residents who use the trail, as well as the need for additional businesses and services.”
Consider that Chester County’s group of regional trails already draws 896,000 users per year, he said. When the section to Pottstown is finally opened, Chester County’s share of the Schuylkill River Trail will stretch 12 miles from the bridge linking Mont Clare and Phoenixville to the Route 422 bridge carrying the trail back over the river into Montgomery County, through Pottstown and West Pottsgrove and on to Berks County.
A recent study of similar trails like the Schuylkill River Trail, which readers of USA Today ranked as America’s best urban trail several years ago, estimated an annual economic impact of $121 million.
“This was a huge lift,” Sarah Clark Stuart, executive director of the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia, said of the completion of this section of trail, adding “particularly dealing with a certain railroad I will not name here.”
Each section of trail completed widens the network that connects southeastern Pennsylvania, Delaware and southern New Jersey, a network promoted by the Circuit Trails Coalition. “The true power of these trails is they connect communities together,” Stuart said.
They also improve the value or nearby real estate noted Mike Walsh, deputy secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources which provided some of the funding for the trail. Walsh said he could remember growing
up in Chester County in the 1980s when the concept of preserving open space was being promoted.
“Some people were opposed to having trails near their homes for fear of what they might bring, now real estate listings promote the proximity of a trail or park,” he said.
All total, Pennsylvania has 12,000 miles of trails and budgeted $70 million for their construction and maintenance, Walsh said. That investment has paid off in Pennsylvania being the sixth largest outdoor recreation state in the country, he said.
But there is more to do. There are still 121 trail gaps around the state, said Walsh — well, now there are just 120.
East Coventry Township Supervisors Chairman Ray Kolb said he is particularly pleased with this trailhead because it makes it easier to display the historic Fricks Lock Village from which the trailhead derives its name.
As that name suggests, it was a village that thrived around one of the locks of the Schuylkill Navigation, a series of canals and locks that paralleled the Schuylkill River and was the first way of transporting coal from Schuylkill County to the factories of Philadelphia that helped to fuel the Industrial Revolution.
That system, useless in the winter when its canals froze, was replaced by the rise of the railroads and many of the buildings at Fricks Lock fell into disrepair. The entire village was purchased by PECO when it built the Limerick Generating Station nuclear power plant due to its proximity to the plant directly across the river.
It has since been partially restored and the East Coventry Historical Society is now permitted to provide tours of the village on Saturdays.
“This becomes a nice place to stop and learn about that piece of history,” Kolb told the gathering.
Efforts are also being made to improve visits’ exploration of the historic area and buildings at the Linfield Road trailhead as well.
That’s the kind of destination riding 84-year-old Steve Trobovic said he likes to take. The King of Prussia resident was on hand Friday with his daughterin-law, Kathleen Trobovic. “We just rode up to see the new pedestrian bridge over Route 724,” he said of one of the trail’s latest additions just south of Birdsboro.
“And we should we would stop here,” he said mater-offactly.
The two then headed off down the trail, joining the officials and visitors who set off the check out the newlyopened section of the trail for the first time.