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Groundbreaking Heralds Construction of Upper Bucks Rail Trail

August 22, 2019

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact: Larry R. King, 215.348.6413, lrking@buckscounty.org

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 Wednesday 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 three 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’ Chair Robert G. 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.” IMG_0252 (2)

Commissioner Charles H. 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, currently strewn with weeds and old rail ties. Construction of the rail trail is expected to begin this fall and conclude next summer.

“These visions move at a glacial pace sometimes,” said Thomas Marino, chair 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 between 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 this fall.  IMG_0267 (2)

“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 that the trail not only connects to the Saucon Rail Trail to the north, but also to existing trails and sidewalks in Richland Township and Quakertown Borough. “I think that’s very exciting,” he said. “Hopefully it is going to promote some folks to leave the car at home and perhaps walk or bike into town.”

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. IMG_0260 (2)

“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.

“Over 10 years ago the Appalachian Mountain Club began bringing communities together to develop a new network of interconnected biking and walking trails known as the Pennsylvania Highlands Trail Network,” said Mark Zakutansky, the organization’s director of conservation policy engagement. “Today, we join the communities of Upper Bucks County to celebrate the development of the latest segment.”IMG_0218 (2)

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, Zakutansky said, “on trails that connect our 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.

“At SEPTA, we could kind of give up on what we call out-of-service territory. But we know it’s important to residents here,” Knueppel said. “This rail trail, making the trail even longer, is just fantastic, and it’s really going to knit the community together. This really is transportation; it’s just not SEPTA.” IMG_0200 (2)

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 Ellis-Marseglia managed to simultaneously hold her shovel and her dog, Bambi, which she hopes to walk on the trail someday.

“I have sat on the Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission for some time now, watching everybody talking about `The Circuit, The Circuit,’” Marseglia said. “Finally we have part of The Circuit done in Bucks County. Have fun on this!”