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Land and Water Trail Development in Pennsylvania

Pennsylvania has been a leader in trail development 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.

DCNR’s goal is to have a trail within 15 minutes of every Pennsylvania citizen. DCNR’s Bureau of Recreation and Conservation supports the non-motorized and motorized trail community by providing financial and technical resources and the strategic vision necessary to meet this goal.

Pennsylvania’s Trail Network Strategy

The Pennsylvania Land and Water Trail Network Strategic Plan (PDF) offers the goals and recommendations for development of a statewide network of greenways and trails.

The trail network strategic plan is part of the Pennsylvania Statewide Comprehensive Outdoor Recreation Plan (PDF), which helps to guide strategy for local governments, state government, and other outdoor recreation providers.

Pennsylvania Land Trail Gaps

DCNR works with partners to identify and map trail gaps on Pennsylvania’s major and regionally significant greenway and trail systems. Closing these identified 248 trail gaps is a program priority.

Top 10 Trail Gaps in Pennsylvania

Pennsylvania’s trail strategy identifies the state’s most important and significant gaps as the 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

DCNR is focusing on closing these top trail gaps by the end of 2019.

Pennsylvania’s Major Greenways

Since 2001, DCNR has maintained a map of the state’s major greenways (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 26 separate water trails spanning more 2,100 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 Trails Strategic Plan

Water trails are also highlighted in the Pennsylvania Statewide Outdoor Recreation Plan, which identifies the outdoor recreation priorities for the state for the next five years (2014–2019). DCNR is working to advance several actions from the plan related to water trails, including:

  • Evaluating strategic gaps in public access along water trails
  • Increasing public access to water trails in coordination with other projects such as transportation and utility projects
  • Developing and implementing a trail ambassador program

During 2016, the water trails program was reevaluated and a strategic plan was created. Early implementation actions from the strategic plan are:

  • A mini-grant program for water trail managers
  • Water trail program guidelines and standards
  • Water trails promotional materials to engage additional partners

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 15 minutes of every citizen.