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Land and Water Trail Development in Pennsylvania

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The vision for Pennsylvania: Develop a statewide land and water trail network to facilitate recreation, transportation, and healthy lifestyles.

Pennsylvania has been a leader in the development of trails for several decades.

Because of this work, many of the easiest trail miles have been built and are currently being enjoyed by Pennsylvania’s residents and visitors.

Several of the state’s larger trail systems are complete or nearly complete; and a statewide network of land and water trails is gradually being realized.

In 2014, DCNR established the goal of having a trail within 15 minutes of every Pennsylvania citizen.

DCNR’s Bureau of Recreation and Conservation, along with the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation and the Department of Community and Economic Development, supports the non-motorized and motorized trail community by providing financial and technical resources and the strategic vision necessary to meet this goal.

Pennsylvania Trail Network Strategic Plan 2020-2024

The Pennsylvania Land and Water Trail Network Strategic Plan, 2020-2024 (PDF) provides a five-year blueprint for state and local governments, trail providers, and other stakeholders to guide Pennsylvania's trail stewardship and expansion.

The plan’s vision is to develop a statewide land and water trail network to facilitate recreation, transportation, and healthy lifestyles for all.

The strategy for meeting that vision is presented in seven recommendations and 40 action steps.

Pennsylvania maintains a 20-member Pennsylvania Trails Advisory Committee, which is tasked with helping to guide the implementation of the plan.

States are required to maintain a state trail plan to receive federal funding through the U.S. Department of Transportation Federal Highway Administration’s Recreational Trails Program.

The Pennsylvania Trail Network Strategic Plan is a companion document to the 2020-2024 Statewide Outdoor Recreation Plan (PDF)

Pennsylvania Land and Water Trail Network Strategic Plan, 2020-2024 Appendices:

A. Public Input Process (PDF)

B. Pennsylvania’s Specialized Trail User Group Summary of Input (PDF)

C. Summary of Motorized Recreation Interests in Pennsylvania (PDF)

D. Pennsylvania’s Major Greenways (PDF)

E. Pennsylvania’s Priority Trail Gaps (PDF)

F. Regional Trail Networks (PDF)

Pennsylvania’s Priority Trail Gaps

DCNR works with partners to identify and map trail gaps along Pennsylvania’s Major Greenways and Regionally Significant Trail systems. Ensuring connectivity within and between trail systems is of vital importance.

Identifying and prioritizing the closing of these priority trail gaps is believed to be the most effective method for improving that connectivity.

DCNR provides additional consideration to grant requests for trail projects that address priority trail gaps.

In 2018, a workgroup made up of trail organizations and DCNR staff developed new trail gap criteria that more clearly defines which projects are deemed a priority trail gap.

Trail managers were then asked to supply data for the gaps in their trail systems. That data was evaluated using the new criteria and the results are published on the Pennsylvania’s Priority Trail Gaps GIS Map.

The most notable result is the reduction in the number of projects that meet the revised definition.

The number of gaps were reduced from 248 to 112; however, all data on previously identified gaps has been retained by DCNR for future use.

DCNR will continue to work with local trail providers to periodically update the trail gap data. The current criteria to be considered a priority trail gap includes:

  • Gap is along a Major Greenway or Regionally Significant Trail
  • Connects two existing segments of trail or connects an existing trail to a state park, state forest, or key community
  • The gap is 5 miles or less
  • The trail itself has been formalized in an official planning document

Top 10 Trail Gaps in Pennsylvania

From the priority trail gaps, DCNR and the Pennsylvania Trails Advisory Committee name the Top 10 Trail Gaps as the state’s most critical gaps requiring a significant amount of time and resources to address.

DCNR maintains a story map of the current Top 10 Trail Gaps. These 10 trail gaps represent projects that:

  • Will connect contiguous open miles of trails
  • Require construction or rehabilitation of major infrastructure
  • Have a large funding need, generally over $1,000,000
  • Require interagency coordination

The purpose of identifying the Top 10 Trail Gaps is to bring attention to the gap projects that require resources beyond those of a standard trail project.

Typically, these projects require significant funding, coordination, and/or technical assistance from multiple state agencies.

Since 2014, two of the Top 10 Trail Gaps have been closed and four more have construction funding secured.

Once a Top 10 Trail Gap is closed, DCNR has established a process for selecting a new gap to take its place on the list.

Potential gaps are identified from the existing priority trail gap data. A list of potential gaps are vetted through the Pennsylvania Trails Advisory Committee, then recommended to the Secretary of DCNR to be approved as a Top 10 Trail Gap.

Pennsylvania’s Major Greenways

Since 2001, DCNR has maintained a Map of Pennsylvania’s Major Greenway/Trail Corridors (PDF), which are existing or planned long-distance corridors (at least 50 miles long) that pass through two or more counties, and are recognized in official planning documents by counties.

The purpose of identifying and mapping these corridors is to inform and guide greenway and open space planners, as well as focus trail development efforts in these corridors.

They represent the major “arteries” of the developing statewide greenway system, which includes land and water trails.

Pennsylvania’s Water Trails

Pennsylvania’s water trail network includes 28 designated water trails spanning more than 2,300 miles of recreation opportunity.

To encourage the creation of the water trail system, and provide support to the diverse managers of designated water trails, the Pennsylvania Water Trail Partnership was formed during 2008. The partnership includes:

  • DCNR
  • Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission
  • National Park Service
  • Pennsylvania Environmental Council

The partnership provides financial and technical assistance to water trail managers, and offers a statewide process for water trail designation.

Water trail partners anticipate increased use of water trails in the coming years, as evidenced by Pennsylvania’s Statewide Outdoor Recreation Plan naming kayaking as the top outdoor recreation activity residents would like to try; and an 85 percent increase in kayak sales in Spring 2020 as compared to Spring 2019. 

At this time, roughly 60 percent of Pennsylvanians live within a 10-minute drive of a public water access area.

One of the priorities of the Water Trail Partnership is to evaluate public access along each water trail and increase opportunities for residents to connect to their local waterways through close to home water-based recreation.

Annual Trails Reports

Annual reports document the accomplishments of Pennsylvania’s trail groups and illustrate the dedication of many trail planners, builders, volunteers, funders, and advocates to advancing the goal of having a trail within 10 minutes of every citizen.