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Conservation Landscapes -- Spotlight on Lehigh Valley Greenways

September 15, 2021 12:00 AM

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Since 2004, Pennsylvania’s Conservation Landscape Program has been using place-based partnerships to drive strategic investments and actions around sustainability, conservation, community revitalization, and recreation projects.

These large regions in the commonwealth are recognized nationally as successful models of collaboration. Each are different in their own way, but all serve as examples of best management practices on how to work together toward a conservation goal.

Lehigh Valley Greenways (PDF) is one of the eight landscapes. This Conservation Landscape is using greenways and trails to connect natural and cultural resources in Lehigh and Northampton counties -- tackling big projects in an urbanized landscape.

New Opportunities to Enjoy the Outdoors in the Lehigh Valley

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Lehigh and Northampton Counties are some of the fastest growing in the commonwealth, with a population forecasted to reach more than 750,000 by the year 2030.

Residential growth is consuming agricultural lands and open space at a rate of four-square miles per year.

Since 2013, more than 75 percent of the valley’s industrial development has been warehouse development. In 2016 alone, nearly 1,000 acres were subdivided for warehouses.

Bridge, outdoors, people, bikes, trees, nature

In addition to rapid development, the valley has limited public lands and parks compared to other parts of the commonwealth.

For this reason, offering the public additional opportunities to enjoy the outdoors has been a guiding theme for partners in this Conservation Landscape.

“Since its inception, Lehigh Valley Greenways has been a tremendous resource and partner for us. Not only has it provided funding for such wonderful projects as bicycle and pedestrian enhancements, urban meadows, and stream restoration activities, it has also provided connectivity to other partners with similar needs and has increased the public visibility and awareness of the importance of conservation efforts,” said City of Easton Director of Public Services David Hopkins. “The city today is on a much more sustainable course as a result of its partnership with the Lehigh Valley Greenways, and we are proud of the accomplishments achieved together.”

D&L Trail is the Spine of Lehigh Valley Greenways

Mansion House Bridge;Bridge;Jim Thorpe;Trail;Lehigh River;D&L

The Delaware and Lehigh National Heritage Corridor (D&L) serves as DCNR’s external lead organization for the landscape and the on-the-ground convener for landscape initiatives.

The overall vision for the landscape work is to link Lehigh Valley communities to greenways, trails, and outdoor experiences resulting in stronger local economies and improved public health, green infrastructure, and natural resources.

Central to this is an ambitious plan to build a trail 165-miles-long, stretching from Wilkes Barre almost to Philadelphia.

The D&L Trail, which follows three historic transportation routes -- Lehigh Valley Railroad, Lehigh Canal, and Delaware Canal -- runs through state park lands to the north and south of the Lehigh Valley.

However, the 40-mile section through the valley itself has many gaps caused by urban encroachment. Connecting the pieces of this section of the trail before it is too late is one of the Conservation Landscape’s highest priorities.

Partners and funders are rallying around the trail partners with hopes of completing the D&L Trail across the valley by 2023.

Lehigh Valley Greenways Accomplishments and Goals

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The LINK Trail Network -- The LINK Trail Network is a partnership between Lehigh Valley nonprofits, state, and local governments. This project will create an interconnected network of 125 miles of trail with plans to close many of the region’s priority trail gaps.

Riparian Buffer Task Force -- Lehigh Valley Greenways has a Buffer Task Force to coordinate, track metrics, share success stories, and help meet stream restoration goals.

Green Retail -- The Lehigh Valley Green Retail Program allows trail and park users to directly support those amenities by donating when they purchase something at participating outdoor recreation businesses.

Action Plan -- The current Lehigh Valley Greenways Action Plan (PDF) has five goals and a number of action steps, including:

  • Engaging new and diverse groups to join the partnership
  • Preserving 400 natural and 100 agricultural acres
  • Expanding streamside buffer plantings
  • Closing trail gaps and promoting trail etiquette

Learn more about the Conservation Landscapes on the DCNR website.

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