By Elissa Garofalo, Executive Director
To paraphrase the great Albert Einstein, a number in and by itself has no significance and only deserves the designation by virtue of its being a member of a group of objects with some shared characteristics. With this in mind, the number “165” means little without the attributes that collectively make up our aspiration to fully connect the D&L Trail from “mine to market.”
About 10 years ago, there was some animated discussion around our office when we talked about the length of the D&L Trail. Folks had already been working on this project for two decades. We all knew that depending upon how you measured its length and where the northern terminus would be, the number would be somewhere between 157 and 173 miles. No matter how you sliced it, the Delaware & Lehigh National Heritage Corridor was well on its way to building the longest multi-use trail in Pennsylvania. In addition to be the longest trail, we were (and are) committed to building a trail that effectively connected residents and visitors to the history, nature, culture, business and communities along the way. The D&L Trail would be more than a recreational asset. We settled on 165.
Allow me to take a few minutes to parse the process and more fully describe the meaning of this number. Admittedly, settling on “165” happened before GIS (Geographic Information System) became a familiar way to capture, store, manipulate, analyze, manage, and present all types of mapping data. This was also before Fitbits, MapMyRide, Strava, smartphones and other devices were popular and began delivering complete tracking fitness information 24/7.
According to the D&L’s extraordinary Trails & Conservation Department, the main D&L Trail – from the Susquehanna Riverfront in Wilkes-Barre to the Delaware River in Historic Bristol Borough – measures exactly 157.4 miles. When you add in the existing and planned loops and spurs, including Allentown’s Waterfront, the measurement jumps to 174.2 miles. Using some simple math, the average is 165.8. Arguably, 165 is still a pretty good number to use when referring to the D&L Trail – aspirational or otherwise.
And depending on how you look at it (the direct north-south route or the route that takes in loops and spurs), the D&L Trail is now somewhere between 92% and 88% connected. One must wonder if it will ever truly be “complete” as communities and partners add amenities and enhancements.
Last year, a friend at the Appalachian Trail Conservancy challenged me on our claim that we would have the longest trail in Pennsylvania. She was right! Indeed, the Appalachian Trail is the longest trail in Pennsylvania, but it has a long tradition of being open strictly to hikers. The D&L is different because all non-motorized users are welcome, therefore “multi-use” is an important add-on to our narrative.
The Great Allegheny Passage in western Pennsylvania is currently Pennsylvania’s longest trail at 150 miles; it’s actually 149.7 miles. Having a similar long distance trail in eastern Pennsylvania is kind of a big deal. People like the idea of bookends – the GAP out west and the D&L in the east. Outdoor enthusiasts are drawn to the “ests”: the highest, the farthest, the tallest, the longest, the best, etc. Long distance trails contribute heavily. They make for more attractive communities, safer routes for bicyclists, pedestrians, and children going to school, as well as higher property values and taxes. The D&L Trail has value added because it also inspires residents and visitors to connect to our industrial heritage, nature and the environment, health and wellness, economic development and our unique culture.
In addition to being the longest multi-use trail in Pennsylvania, the D&L Trail may be well on its way to be the best trail in the state. Some might say I’m partial considering I’ve spent the better part of two decades working toward its realization. Others may disagree because the D&L is not paved or does not have enough art along it, or, or, or…. I hope you get my point.
I fully expect another Pennsylvania trail will one day knock us off the distance throne. However, for the time being we can confidently say, when fully connected, the D&L Trail will be the longest multi-use trail in Pennsylvania. Why? Because it’s actually an understatement – the D&L is more than just a 165-mile trail!
The D&L’s mission is complex and sometimes challenging to convey. We pride ourselves in conveying the region’s authentic heritage. The story of how our five county area fueled America’s Industrial Revolution by transporting goods and resources from the mines to market is compelling. So is the use of “165” to depict the length of the D&L Trail.