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2020 News

Upper Bucks Rail Trail Opens with Festive Ribbon-Cutting

November 23, 2020

Contact: Larry R. King, 215-348-6413, lrking@buckscounty.org

The long-awaited Upper Bucks Rail Trail officially opened last week with a festive ribbon cutting in Richland Township, linking the county to a vast network of recreational trails throughout the Delaware and Lehigh Valleys.

Bucks County Commissioners Chair Diane Ellis-Marseglia and Vice Chair Bob Harvie welcomed more than 50 elected officials, volunteers, trail enthusiasts and media representatives Thursday afternoon to the rail trail access near the Richland Township Fire and Rescue Building. 2020.11.19 Ribbon-Cutting

“This is an example of why this is so important. When we have a bridge opening, sometimes we only get one or two people,” Marseglia said. “We’re opening a trail, and we have all of you.”

Envisioned for many years, the 3.2-mile rail trail connects Veterans Memorial Park in Richland Township to the popular Saucon Rail Trail in Lehigh and Northampton Counties. Twelve feet wide, it was built along SEPTA’s former Bethlehem Branch, which ceased operations almost 40 years ago, and includes an 800-foot boardwalk spanning a wetlands area.

“This trail is something we need right now – to connect us to nature, to connect us to our physical selves, to connect us to other people we all meet along the way,” Marseglia said. “I think it speaks to the fact that people of all political parties have worked to get this trail open, which just goes to show how important it is to work together.” 2020.11.19 County Commissioner Diane Ellis-Marseglia (2)

A host of speakers echoed Marseglia’s words, touting the trail as a testament to innovation, perseverance, community involvement and inter-governmental teamwork.

They cheered as the ceremonial ribbon was cut by Senior Transportation Planner Paul Gordon and Transportation Planning Director Richard Brahler, who oversaw the project for the Bucks County Planning Commission, and again when Marseglia and Richland Township Supervisor Kathie Doyle hopped on a red, five-seat bike for a symbolic first ride.

A cooperative effort between the county and Richland and Springfield Townships, the rail trail cost about $1.5 million to design and build. The project was paid for entirely through PennDOT’s Act 13 Marcellus Legacy Fund.

The trail was designed by Boucher and James Inc. of Doylestown, and was constructed over the past eight months by Monster Paving of Ambler.  2020.11.19 Upper Bucks Rail Trail (2)

Harvie noted a cycle having come full circle: Communities once knit together by rail lines that again became isolated when roads and highways replaced the rail lines are again being united.

The emphasis on road travel “made us pay less attention to pedestrian rights of way over the past 70 years,” he said. “Now we’re going back and realizing how important it is to give residents the ability to walk from community to community.”

The project provides not only recreation and improved quality of life, but also is a boon to the Upper Bucks economy, said Danielle Bodnar, executive director of the Upper Bucks Chamber of Commerce. “A project like this is stimulating for the economic benefits it brings to our region,” she said.

The project provides trail access to more than 74,000 Upper Bucks residents.

Tom Marino, chair of the Richland Township Park and Recreation Board, said he became a trail proponent 13 years ago after being unable to safely walk his then-young children to a nearby ice cream shop. Now, he said, Richland is “one of the few walkable rural communities of Bucks County.” 2020.11.19 Tom Marino, Richland Twp. Park & Rec Chair

The Upper Bucks Rail Trail took root about seven years ago, Marino said, when negotiations over use of the right-of-way began between SEPTA and the Appalachian Mountain Club.

“Bucks County took that vision and brought it to where it is today,” Marino said, resulting in 17 continuous miles of trail from Hellertown to the southern end of Richland Township, passing through seven municipal parks and three school districts, and augmented by spur trails connecting to multiple housing developments. Negotiations are ongoing with SEPTA to extend the trail two miles farther south into Quakertown, he said.

On a grander scale, the rail trail connects Bucks County to a number of broader trail networks, including the Pennsylvania Highlands Regional Trails Network, The Link Trails network in the Lehigh Valley, and The Circuit Trails, whose supporters are working to build an 800-mile network of trails in the Delaware Valley.

Frank Hollenbach of the Springfield Township Parks & Land Preservation Board said a 2013 feasibility study by the Appalachian Mountain Club had “formed a blueprint” for local connections into the broader network.

“All trails are really local,” concurred Patrick Starr of the PA Environmental Council, vice chair of the Circuit Trails Coalition. “This is a perfect example: three miles of local trail, beloved by Richland Township, Springfield Township and Bucks County. That is how we will build an 800-mile system.” 2020.11.19 Patrick Starr, PA Environmental Council

The Upper Bucks Rail Trail is among a handful of recently completed projects that have pushed the Circuit Trails Coalition past the 350-mile mark toward its goal. “We have a lot to go, but we are getting there,” Starr said.

Patricia McCloskey of the Appalachian Mountain Club said the trail is an important addition to the 300-mile, 13-county Highlands Trail Network in Pennsylvania. Local organizations such as Quakertown Alive! are working to provide improvements such as signage, bike racks, bike repair stations, she said, and the Pennsylvania Department of Health has provided a $30,000 grant to develop a regional active transportation plan in the area.

“Trails provide a sense of community, a place to improve physical and mental health, and are a driver of local and regional economic improvement,” McCloskey said. 2020.11.19 Patricia McCloskey, Appalachian Mountain Club

Kyle Melander, an assistant to U.S. Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick, said parks and natural areas like the rail trail have taken on added importance during the COVID pandemic.

“This is the first event I’ve been to where everyone in attendance is wearing a mask,” remarked former County Commissioner Charles H. Martin, whose administration approved plans for the rail trail, the first sponsored by Bucks County outside of a county park. “I did want to come up and see the finished product.”

Martin said he looks forward to the completion of similar projects elsewhere in the county, including the Newtown Rail Trail, for which construction has begun. That trail is expected to open by the summer of 2021.