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DCNR joins in dedication of newly restored Schuylkill River Trail
Three, four days a week, when the winds don’t howl and the February skies stay dry, Mark Haas follows pretty much the same schedule. The bicycling enthusiast transports his bike from his Easton home, links up with the Schuylkill River Trail near Valley Forge in Montgomery County, and starts pedaling toward Philadelphia.

He’ll be there in less than 15 miles, and, oh, what a ride it is!

“It’s beautiful, even now in winter,” says the retired manufacturer turned bicycling addict. “It’s great, really nice with the renovations they just finished. And soon I can continue on to the Kelly Drive section of Philadelphia.”

Or east to Camden and New Jersey, or west to Lower Merion, or north some 130 miles to Pottsville and Schuylkill County. Sitting on a bench looking out on sun-dabbled waters of the Manayunk Canal, Haas pulled out a sandwich from his backpack while digesting all the possibilities opening up to him and other biking and hiking enthusiasts traveling along the Schuylkill River.

Glenside resident Mark Haas welcomes the changes to the Schuylkill River Trail he travels almost daily when weather permits.
The 60-year-old had a lot of company that Feb. 23 morning, as DCNR officials joined neighborhood, city and state leaders in the dedication of a newly restored, highly popular trail along the Schuylkill River that draws thousands each year to the Manayunk section of Philadelphia.

“One of the major ways to get people outdoors and actively walking, jogging, or biking for recreation or commuting, is to build trails or trail connectors close to where they live” said DCNR Deputy Secretary John Giordano, speaking at a ribbon-cutting ceremony along the Schuylkill Canal Towpath, off Lock Street. “As you can see, the Schuylkill River Trail does just that—it traverses through many of Philadelphia’s neighborhoods and provides close access to a well-maintained and loved recreational amenity.”

The ceremony celebrated completion of a 2.2-mile segment of the Schuylkill River Trail, extending north from the end of the canal toward the river and the Shawmont Avenue area of Philadelphia’s Roxborough section. Linking Montgomery County to the north, it sees the heaviest use of any trail in Philadelphia, luring hikers, bikers, joggers and other outdoors enthusiasts.

“This project will not only promote the health and social benefits gained from recreation, but in doing so, be a gateway to increased visitation and, in turn, boost the economic vitality of Manayunk’s rebounding Main Street area business district, “ Giordano said. “In fact, we already see businesses responding, by fronting on the canal and towpath.”

DCNR Deputy Secretary John Giordano (center) joins Philadelphia Mayor Michael A. Nutter (third from left) in the dedication of a popular biking and hiking trail in the Manayunk section of Philadelphia. Others (from left) are Philadelphia Deputy Mayor for Environmental and Community Resources Michael DiBerardinis; Schuylkill Project Director Katherine Sykora; state Rep. Pamela DeLissio; Philadelphia Water Commissioner Howard Neukrug; and 4th District Councilman Curtis Jones Jr.

“The improvement and beautification of our trails and natural lands are vital to the livability of the city” said Philadelphia Mayor Michael A. Nutter. “The renovated Manayunk Canal Towpath will benefit thousands of cyclists, joggers, runners and pedestrians who rely on a safe and functional recreational trail network. I would like to thank the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources for its support of this project.”

The aesthetics and recreational value of the canal and paralleling towpath and trail have been linked to the location of new businesses and residential development. Trail travelers, meanwhile, continue to boost the economic vitality of Manayunk’s Main Street area business district.

“I really can’t emphasize enough the importance of the partnerships that led to the completion of this project,” Giordano said. “Like many of our projects across Philadelphia, the teaming together of the city, the state and community organizations are what made this project possible.”

The project was financed through a $400,000 DCNR grant to Philadelphia’s Fairmount Park Commission; a matching state Department of Transportation Transportation Enhancement grant; and Philadelphia capitol budget funds.

The restoration project was needed to address recurrent flooding caused by poor drainage, and the deterioration of four trail bridges spanning small streams flowing into the Schuylkill from the Shawmont hills. The restored section is among the trail’s most scenic, threading through heavily wooded, shaded areas along the river.

“The trail helps keep children and youth safe, active, and healthy by connecting them to the park and the natural world along the Manayunk Canal and the Schuylkill River” said Michael DiBerardinis, former DCNR secretary and now Philadelphia’s deputy mayor for environmental and community resources. “The collaborative approach used on this project represents a new way of working at Parks and Recreation; leveraging partnerships and community engagement to create and accomplish bold and innovative projects.”

Specifically, trail work included: installation of new fencing along the canal’s towpath area; rebuilding and widening of the trail; flooding remediation; removal of overgrown vegetation that clogged the trail in some area; and planting of trees and shrubbery.

Several other improvements are planned or under way in Philadelphia that will enhance the Schuylkill River Trail experience for users and increase their connections with other trails. They include:

  • Inception of a canal dredging project by the city to clean and deepen the silt and storm debris-clogged waterway;
  • Restoration of historic canal locks;
  • Construction of an “off-road” trail, taking travelers from the Shawmont Avenue terminus of the Schuylkill River Trail to Port Royal Avenue, and then north into Montgomery County. This trail originally had used at least one city street to facilitate travel;
  • Construction of a trail over the Manayunk Bridge, connecting Lower Merion s Cynwyd Trail with Manayunk and the Schuylkill River Trail.
Among the speakers straining to be hard above the drone of nearby heavy equipment was Schuylkill Project Director Katherine Sykora, who addressed the crowd gathered a short distance from Venice Island. There, between the Schuylkill River and the canal, a new city recreation and performing arts center, upgraded parking, and storm-water retention structures are taking shape.

The Venice Island projects, trail restoration and a rebounding economic climate—linked heavily to the trail and the biking and hiking it provides—all point to a newfound vibrancy on Main Street, said the Manayunk Development Corporation executive.

“Yay, Manayunk!” Sykora said. “It’s well on its way, and everyone here today had a role in making it all happen.”

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February 29, 2012

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