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Wealth of Pennsylvania Trails Means Brighter Future for Trail Towns

September 19, 2018 02:15 PM

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Trails are valued for the connection they offer between home, school, and work; the opportunity for healthy exercise; and the chance for family togetherness. Trails also open the door to the outdoors!

Trail Opportunities in PA

If you live in Pennsylvania, consider yourself lucky to be able to experience a great variety of trail experiences:

  • The commonwealth is a leader in the nation in converting rail corridors to rail trails.
  • There’s a growing system of water trails based on the thousands of miles of rivers and streams that served as the earliest transportation and trade routes, now being used by paddlers launching their kayaks and canoes. Map guides, information at Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission (PFBC) access points, and the PFBC website are helpful tools.
  • Other trails range from local nature trails to large regional systems such as the Delaware and Lehigh Trail Corridor -- 165 miles long and stretching from Wilkes-Barre to Bristol Borough in Bucks County.
  • State forests and parks offer many opportunities, from strenuous hiking to leisurely strolling, and places to ride bikes, horses, ATVs, and snowmobiles.
  • Pennsylvania hosts the best-known hiking trail in the nation -- the Appalachian Trail -- traversing the state from the northern New Jersey border to the Maryland line.

Trail Towns and Community Connections

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Pine Creek Rail Trail

Pennsylvania communities are seeing the value of connecting to these trail corridors. It enhances their town’s quality of life with close-to-home recreation and also brings more vitality and business to their downtowns, as well as conserves history and natural resources.

As an example of the economic impact, more than 125,000 people hike or bike the Pine Creek Rail Trail in the Pennsylvania Wilds annually, spending almost $7 million on food, lodging, and other goods such bikes, bike supplies, clothing, and camping gear to use the trail.

So, what is a trail town?

It’s any community along a trail corridor, and there are programs established to help these communities. These programs help communities learn how to capitalize on the economic impact trails can generate.

One such program is coordinated by the Allegheny Trail Alliance, which helps communities along the Great Allegheny Passage take advantage of the economic opportunity that arises around -- and often walks or rides into -- their towns.

Assistance includes a trail town guide book (PDF), community planning programs, targeted infrastructure investments, and even a loan program for small businesses.

There are a number of designated trail towns along a corridor of revitalized trailside communities on the Great Allegheny Passage that reap the economic benefits of trail-based tourism and recreation as part of a larger, coordinated approach to regional economic development.

Forest City: Trail Town Along the D&H Trail in Susquehanna County

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D&H Rail Trail in Forest City

In the far northeast corner of Pennsylvania, Forest City is nestled in the corner of Susquehanna, Lackawanna, and Wayne counties.

The borough is four avenues by 10 blocks as the main city with a small surrounding suburb housing 1,911 in the 2010 census. At its height in the early 20th century, between the timber, silk, lumber, and coal industries, the population was close to 6,000 -- a booming town with a busy Main Street.

This small town’s past economy was built on natural resources, and there is opportunity for its future economy to do the same.

DCNR Secretary Cindy Adams Dunn recently visited Forest City to highlight the Delaware and Hudson (D&H) Trail, a 38-mile-long trail in the abandoned rail corridor from Simpson, Lackawanna County, to the New York border near Susquehanna. The D&H Trail connects at its southern end to the 32-mile Lackawanna River Heritage Trail.

Borough Mayor Christopher Glinton showed the secretary its sign at the trailhead that highlights historic and recreational destinations, as well as a directory of local small businesses -- including where to find the closest ATM -- to encourage trail users to visit the downtown.

“This is part of our larger efforts to be welcoming to the visitors that the trail attracts,” Glinton said.

From a recent study completed by the Rails to Trails Conservancy, 10,800 non-motorized users visit the D&H Trail annually, which generated an estimated $750,000 in economic impact.

In August, Forest City held a Trail Town Festival that highlighted outdoor recreation opportunities on the D&H Trail, but also a number of programs conducted by the Forest City Area Historical Society.

Learn More

DCNR grants have encouraged planning and trail connections so that trail towns can take advantage of trail users pumping dollars in to their communities.

As a handy resource for searching, mapping, and sharing information about trails, DCNR and partners offer the one-stop shop website --

For further assistance, contact a DCNR Bureau of Recreation and Conservation regional adviser (PDF).

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