Rail Trail - River Trail

This aerial view is looking north along Route 441 from the Washington Boro Park in Manor Township Monday, Feb. 24, 2020. This area is a possible future home for a trail that would connect the Northwest Lancaster County River Trail and the Enola Low Grade Rail Trail.

THE ISSUE

The Northwest Lancaster County River Trail and the Enola Low Grade Rail Trail have become popular multiuse public trails in Lancaster County over the past half-decade. Now, studies and community conversations are underway regarding how to link those two trails by building a new segment in Manor Township. If that section can be built, then — along with the anticipated conversion of the Safe Harbor railroad trestle — the combined trail could reach the “existing 23-mile Enola Low Grade Trail across the fertile farmland of southern Lancaster County,” Ad Crable wrote for Sunday LNP | LancasterOnline.

We’re great fans of the great outdoors. So we’re thrilled at the idea of improving and expanding Lancaster County’s already enviable network of scenic trails for walkers and bikers.

The trails that start along the Susquehanna River in the northwestern part of the county, Crable wrote, “could eventually connect with rail trails under construction all the way to Philadelphia.”

That’s pretty cool.

And it’s more than just great news for those who love the outdoors. It’s potentially great news for the communities and businesses along these trails. Some are already reaping benefits, and others are eager to get in on the surge in foot traffic.

“Local officials, the business community and tourism officials believe the linkups of more than 40 miles of trails will make the county a nationwide destination, especially among bike riders,” Crable wrote.

But there’s work to be done. Funding sources must be secured. Easements must be negotiated. Members of the public, municipal leaders and stakeholders must agree on a shared vision.

While some of the talks could get thorny, we’re encouraged by the dialogue thus far.

For most, it’s not a question of if the trail expansion should happen. It’s more a question of how.


The missing link

The 14-mile Northwest Lancaster County River Trail (which includes Marietta and Columbia) and the 5-mile Enola Low Grade Rail Trail in lower Manor Township have drawn praise over the past half-decade

But they are isolated from each other, and “linking the two river trails will not be easy,” Crable wrote.

Two options, each with pros and cons, are under consideration in Manor Township.

— A mostly level route from Columbia to Turkey Point would closely follow the Susquehanna River between Norfolk Southern railroad tracks and Route 441 for 5 miles. It would require permission from the railroad, the likely construction of a fence and the OK of private landowners along the route.

— The second route is 2 miles longer and “would mostly follow an existing PPL power line through Columbia and up-and-down hills through farmland,” Crable wrote. It would feature an elevation gain of 1,260 feet, perhaps limiting its appeal to casual walkers and bikers.

“There’s a lot of challenges with both (options),” Ryan Strohecker, manager of Manor Township, told Crable. But township officials, to their credit, “wanted to show we’re not just fixated on one route,” Strohecker added.

Seeing the two proposals side-by-side — Pittsburgh-based Environmental Planning & Design is conducting a $50,000 study paid for by the state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources and Lancaster County Solid Waste Management Authority — will help members of the public decide which set of compromises they’re most willing to make.

At a meeting Monday in Manor Township, about 40 people showed up and raised questions about the two plans, LNP | LancasterOnline’s Sean Sauro reported.

“What kind of effect does a trail running through your backyard do to your property value?” said Rory Heberling, who opposed the option that would bring the trail right past his home.

Many echoed concerns about privacy and safety. Some opposed the option with the steeper incline, while others liked it because of the picturesque views it would provide trail users.

We appreciate that Manor Township and those handling the study are aggressively seeking public feedback via an online survey and public meetings like the one Monday.

Our preference is for the option that follows the railroad tracks, as it’s flatter and doesn’t involve taking away any farmland. We hope property owners can have an open mind about trails passing near their homes. Many national studies have shown that the presence of rail trails provides a boost to property values.

Meanwhile, we’re pleased to see separate plans moving forward to connect the Enola Low Grade Rail Trail to the Enola Low Grade Trail. “Initial work has begun on the soaring, curving Safe Harbor railroad trestle to turn the abandoned structure into a pedestrian walkway across the Conestoga River,” Crable reported.

A combination of state and county grants is primarily funding that project, which is expected to cost $7.8 million. Construction could begin in June.

The economic upside

There’s a point to all of this planning and construction beyond providing a wonderful opportunity to get people outdoors.

Trails make dollars and sense. They can’t be completed soon enough, as far as the business community is concerned.

Even without being fully interconnected, the trails “have become regional draws and breathed new life into old river towns such as Marietta and Columbia,” Crable wrote.

“We had 120,000 people that passed through Columbia last year,” said Columbia Mayor Leo Lutz, advocating the construction of the connecting segment in Manor Township. “Putting that connection in is going to do nothing but help Columbia and surrounding towns, and Lancaster County as a whole.”

Strohecker told Crable that about 24,000 people used Manor Township’s portion of the Enola Low Grade Rail Trail in 2019. Quarryville officials — with their borough sitting on the Enola Low Grade Trail — would love to see bicyclists who have traveled all the way from Marietta; and they'd love to profit from that traffic as Marietta has.

“The lofty view up and down the Susquehanna from the top of the historic (railroad trestle) and 40 miles of beckoning trails might expand those (traffic) numbers and popularity across the country,” Crable wrote.

That’s a view — and an economic vision — we should all get behind. 

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