By Lauren Golden, Trail and Stewardship Manager
2019 was a big year for the D&L Trail! With the help of our partners, we were able to close three major gaps and one minor gap this year. Opening the Mansion House Bridge in Jim Thorpe allowed us to hit a monumental milestone, Carbon County became the first county in the Delaware and Lehigh National Heritage Corridor to be fully connected. The completion of Bucks County follows shortly behind now that we have connected both the CSX Passageway and Tyburn Road gaps. D&L Staff and the public alike long awaited the opening the Mansion House Bridge in Jim Thorpe.
We’ve mentioned before that it took more than 25 years to see the Mansion House Bridge through to completion from planning. CSX Passageway and Tyburn Road in Bucks County took almost as long. With timelines like these, you may be wondering “Will the D&L Trail ever be fully connected?” YES! But not tomorrow, or next year. But we’re positive things will happen, so here is an update of what is happening within our two big remaining gaps—connecting to Wilkes-Barre and the route through the Lehigh Valley Gap.
With the largest number of miles left to connect, there are a lot of projects happening northward of the Black Diamond Trailhead. A study is well underway to determine the best route from downtown Wilkes-Barre up on to the mountain. We’re hoping to announce this route sometime in 2020, with help from Luzerne County Planning staff.
Design for the route around Wilkes-Barre mountain, roughly 6 miles from Northampton Street to Seven Tubs Nature Area and back to Laurel Run Road (near Oliver Mills) is complete. Our partner, North Branch Land Trust, has approximately ¾ of the funding necessary to complete construction. Additional grant applications are in the works to find the rest of the money needed. If successful, construction could start as early as 2021.
Crossing both the road and the railroad at Oliver Mills will be very difficult. Over the last year we have talked with both PennDOT and Reading Blue Mountain Northern Railroad to identify two potential ways to cross. Conversations will continue in 2020 as to which of these works best for all parties involved.
The D&L, with support from DCNR, is engineering trail development from Oliver Mills to the Mountain Top Trailhead. Design work is far enough along that we are working through the local land development process in 3 municipalities. We anticipate work at the trailhead may go to construction in 2020, but we do not yet have funds for construction of the full 4.7 mile section.
The section of trail from Northampton southward to Hanover Township on the canal side of the river is the farthest along in the development process. Construction will be phased, the first likely being in Catasauqua, where Lehigh County has received construction funding from PennDOT and DCNR. We don’t have a timeline, but we do expect to learn more as the engineering process moves forward in the first half of 2020. We thought that perhaps the section in Northampton and North Catasauqua might be built in 2020, but unfortunately, our grant application was not awarded. So, we will continue to look for construction funding for this section.
One of our partners, Lehigh County continues to work diligently on acquiring a stretch of former railbed stretching from Cementon to West Catasauqua. This section would connect the D&L to the Ironton Rail Trail, an important connection in THE LINK trail network.
Additional plans for the D&L southward of the Catasauqua area, on both sides of the river, will be the subject of a trail study, funded by the recently announced round of DCNR grants. This work will be coordinated with all the partners involved with the BUILD grant application that was not awarded. Work on this study will not start until the second half of 2020, due to the contracting process, so stay tuned for public meetings, we want your input!
To make a long story short, our work on the D&L Trail takes time, because we work with so many different partners and stakeholders. We need buy in from all these folks for each mile we connect. To help move along trail development, trail users can urge their legislators and municipalities to support trail projects in their area, become a member, and even designate gifts to the trail in your county.