The Bucks County Commissioners – joined by about 60 government officials, planners, engineers, transportation experts, trail-advocacy groups and members of the public – ceremonially broke ground recently on the Upper Bucks Rail Trail, which will connect the county to a vast network of biking and walking trails throughout the region.
More than 3 miles long and 12 feet wide, the trail will be built on the right-of-way of the old Bethlehem Branch railroad, which ceased operations almost 40 years ago. When finished, it will connect Veterans Memorial Park in Richland Township to the popular Saucon Rail Trail in Lehigh and Northampton counties.
“What a great turnout for a trail,” said County Commissioners’ Chairman Robert Loughery. “It shows you how important trails are…People are going to be able to get to a lot of different places on this trail – whether by walking, jogging or biking – beyond Bucks County, into the Lehigh Valley and the rest of Southeastern Pennsylvania.”
Commissioner Charles Martin added that the trail “is really going to improve the quality of life in Bucks County, and I think that’s what all of us want.”
The celebration was held on the grounds of the Shelly Fire Company in Richland, along an embankment beside the railroad right-of-way, strewn with weeds and old rail ties. Construction of the rail trail is expected to begin in the fall and conclude next summer.
“These visions move at a glacial pace sometimes,” said Thomas Marino, chairman of the Richland Township Park & Recreation Board, noting that groups such as the Appalachian Mountain Club have been working for more than 10 years to make the trail a reality. “Seeing an event like this come together is really kind of exciting.”
A cooperative effort among the county, Richland Township and Springfield Township, the Upper Bucks Rail Trail is the first Bucks County-sponsored trail outside of a county park, with more planned for the future. A groundbreaking for the Newtown Rail Trail is expected in the fall.
“One of the most frequent questions I’ve gotten in my office over the last couple of years has been: `What’s the status of the rail trail project?’ ” said state Rep. Craig Staats, a former Richland Township supervisor. “Now we’ve got something to show them and something to talk about.”
Staats said the trail not only connects to the Saucon Rail Trail to the north, but to existing trails and sidewalks in Richland Township and Quakertown Borough.
Staats presented a certificate of appreciation to Evan Stone, executive director of the Bucks County Planning Commission, who in turn praised his director of transportation planning, Richard Brahler, and Paul Gordon, his senior transportation planner, for their work on the project.
“Without the tireless efforts and dedication, tenacity and vision of these two individuals, we wouldn’t be here today,” Stone said. “I look forward to the day when we cut the ribbon and walk together on the Upper Bucks Rail Trail.”
The rail trail will link Bucks County to the Appalachian Mountain Club’s Pennsylvania Highlands Regional Trails Network, the Link Trails network in the Lehigh Valley and The Circuit, an 800-mile bicycle network in the Delaware Valley. Its cost – estimated at $1.6 million to $2 million – will be paid from PennDOT’s Act 13 Marcellus Legacy Fund.
Once the Pennsylvania Highlands Trail network is fully developed, people will be able to travel by foot or bike to destinations such as Nockamixon State Park, the Delaware River, Green Lane Borough and the Perkiomen Trail, on trails that connect parks, playgrounds, schools, hospitals, restaurants, business and communities together with safe routes for biking and walking.
Among the Upper Bucks Rail Trail’s likely bike riders will be SEPTA’s retiring general manager, Jeffrey Knueppel, who lives nearby.
Nate Dorfman, trails and recreation coordinator for the Pennsylvania Environmental Council, said The Circuit, one of the nation’s largest trail systems, has 350 miles of trails. “Today’s groundbreaking brings us even closer to our goal of 500 miles by 2025,” he said.
Dorfman said the Upper Bucks Rail Trail, along with the Liberty Bell Trail to the south, will help link communities in Upper Bucks with Bethlehem, Philadelphia and beyond.
At the ceremonial shoveling of dirt to mark the groundbreaking, County Commissioner Diane Marseglia managed to simultaneously hold her shovel and her dog, Bambi, whom she hopes to walk on the trail someday. ••