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Rail Trails in PA: Using Resources from the Past to Connect Our Future

February 07, 2018 03:45 PM

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​Have you ever spent time enjoying a Pennsylvania rail trail? If so, you are part of a community of more than 4 million people who access Pennsylvania rail trails annually for recreation and transportation.

The opportunities at rail trails are nearly endless!

Rail trails are multi-purpose public paths created from former railroad corridors. They are most often flat or follow a gentle grade as they traverse urban, suburban, and rural communities.

Rail trails are ideal for many uses, including:

  • Walking or snowshoeing
  • Running
  • Bicycling
  • Inline skating
  • Cross-country skiing
  • Horseback riding
  • Wildlife watching

They often are wheelchair accessible.

Why Are Rail Trails Valuable to Pennsylvania?

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Rail trails -- like most other trails -- add value to our lives by:

  • Increasing our mobility
  • Improving our health
  • Spurring economic development and job creation
  • Protecting and enjoying our environment
  • Creating powerful connections within, to, and across communities

The commonwealth is known for its massive trails network, which draws both Pennsylvanians and out-of-staters. Rail trails are a significant part of that appeal.

Pennsylvania currently is home to 181 rail trails totaling 1,891 miles!

Not only do rail trails provide places to be active, opportunities to spend time with others or enjoy a solo adventure, and routes for alternate transportation, they also stimulate massive economic benefits across the state.

It’s estimated that total user-spending because of Pennsylvania rail trails is $115.2 million annually.

DCNR recognizes the importance of these trails, which is why the department and our partners continue to work toward improving and connecting these trails to ensure that Pennsylvanians have local access.

Closing Trail Gaps

To establish a statewide trail network where every citizen is within 15 minutes of a trail, DCNR is focused on closing priority gaps in the current trail system. Efforts are underway to close the Top 10 Trail Gaps by 2019.

Six out of the 10 major trail gaps are on rail trails, including the D&L Trail.

The D&L Trail

The D&L Trail was named the national Rails to Trails Conservancy’s Trail of the Month in January 2018, and for good reason.

Comprised of a combination of former railroad routes and canal towpaths, the scenic and historical pathway crosses five counties along both the Lehigh and Delaware rivers.

This trail used to carry coal and iron from Wilkes-Barre to Philadelphia. Today, the D&L Trail connects people to:

  • Industrial heritage
  • Health and wellness
  • Economic development
  • Nature and the environment (passing through and connecting several state parks and forests)

This 141-mile multi-use trail is known for the diversity of scenery and communities through which it traverses, the variety of activities you can enjoy on the trail, and its sheer length. And it’s about to get even longer.

New Pedestrian Bridge

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Currently the second longest rail trail in the state to the Great Allegheny Passage, the D&L Trail when finished will total 165 miles. It will become the longest Pennsylvania rail trail.

Working with trail partners, including the Delaware & Lehigh National Heritage Corridor, DCNR made significant progress during 2017 toward closing several Top 10 Trail Gaps, including a section of the D&L Trail.

Just south of Jim Thorpe, the construction of a key pedestrian bridge, 25 years in the making, will be celebrated with great fanfare by sojourn riders on June 11, 2018.

The placement of the 300-foot-long bridge across the Lehigh River in Jim Thorpe along the D&L Trail connects more than 90 miles of open trail. This section is scheduled to be open to the public during spring 2018.

Developed Trail Section

In addition, Secretary Cindy Adams Dunn joined Senator John Yudichak and Delaware & Lehigh National Heritage representatives earlier this month to celebrate the Wolf Administration’s recent investment to support a new section of the trail.

The funding will support the development of almost five miles of D&L Trail that would stretch from the Mountain Top Trailhead in Fairview Township to East Northampton Street in Laurel Run Borough.

“This grant represents the Wolf Administration​’s continuing support of a project that has been many years in the making and is a demonstrated economic stimulus to the area,” Secretary Dunn told an audience of state and corridor officials gathered at Nescopeck State Park.

The Rails to Trails Conservancy estimated the total user-spending generated because of the D&L Trail at more than $19 million annually. After completion of the trail, it could approach $50 million per year.

Discussing the recent investment, Dunn also said, “This support also is directly in line with two major DCNR initiatives: closing major existing trail gaps, and bringing the joy of hiking, biking, and walking close to people’s homes.”

Learn More about Trails in PA

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Learn more about DCNR’s trail development efforts by exploring DCNR’s website. You can find trails near you and learn about their difficulty and accessibility by visiting Explore PA Trails.

Visit the Delaware & Lehigh National Heritage Corridor’s website to explore maps and learn about specific D&L trail sections. Learn about rail trails in PA and the U.S. by visiting the Rails to Trails Conservancy website.

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