‘Smart Growth & Recreation Plan’ in the Greater Williamsport Area: Where’s Your Next Adventure?
Sep 06, 2017 01:58PM
By Melanie Heisinger
Armstrong Road in the Fall
Trail are my happy places. While highways are home to speed,
congestion and road rage, trails are spacious, scenic spaces where people can
slow down and connect with their surroundings. Despite their appeal, trails are
difficult to take from concept to completion. Here’s why, and here’s how you
Where’s Your Next Adventure?
Story and photographs by Brian Auman
Trails connect us with nature in a meaningful and purposeful way, and science is slowly catching up with what we’ve all inherently known—being in nature is good for our physical and mental health. It’s difficult to go a week without hearing of a new study citing the benefits of Japanese ‘Forest Bathing,’ immersion in nature reducing ADHD in children or physical activity benefiting heart health. Physicians in Vermont even prescribe day passes to state parks.
Public opinion surveys continually rank trails and greenways as the public’s top recreation priority, perhaps because of their numerous benefits: serving people of all ages and abilities; helping create pedestrian and bicycle friendly communities; and encouraging active/healthy lifestyles.
What’s the holdup?
So why are there not more trails? As someone who has spent the last 15 years in greenway planning, design and construction I can definitively tell you, “It’s complicated.” Securing ownership of contiguous land parcels, planning, engineering and design costs, navigating the permitting and approval process, and limited funding, are all reasons the average project takes a decade from concept to completion.
While trails are highly desired amenities, they are complex, costly and time consuming to bring to realization. This conundrum illustrates a need for a more efficient way to create greenways. It was while working on a ‘smart growth and recreation plan’ in the greater Williamsport area that the ‘Ridge Trail’ idea was conceived. The Ridge Trail concept is basic, asking the question, how can we better use existing and underutilized resources of Commonwealth and other public lands? (For more information on the Ridge Trail concept, see Summer __ issue of Susquehanna Life magazine.)
Minimizing costs, maximizing return
Research has shown that greenway and trails contribute to the local economy by bringing in tourism dollars and increasing property values. This value increases proportionally with trail mileage, and is maximized for communities that become ‘hubs’ of a diverse trail network. Jersey Shore, Lock Haven and Williamsport have the potential to disproportionately benefit from their central location in the evolving trail network.
To maximize economic benefit, communities need to become ‘Trail Towns’ by connecting to the Ridge Trail and taking steps to make their own communities more pedestrian and bicycle friendly. Communities that already have a range of accommodations, restaurants, music, arts and culture, as well as grocery, bike shop and outfitters, are ahead of the game. But strategic public and private investment in improvements will enhance the community’s quality of life for residents, with the added benefit of attracting visitors and tourism dollars.
Strategically positioned, the Ridge Trail could serve as a link between the popular and well-known Pine Creek Rail Trail in Northcentral Pennsylvania (60 miles in length), and the Great Allegheny Passage and C&O Canal Trail (combined over 330 miles of trail) to the south.
The Great Allegheny Passage is billed as ‘America’s friendliest long distance bike journey.’ The Ridge Trail would diversify the trail experience by adding challenging topography and numerous route options. The Ridge Trail’s connector function would attract the multi-day tourist who will seek services for food, equipment, repairs, overnight accommodations, and outfitter, shuttle, and support services.
The Ridge Trail will help to make strategic trail connections and help to build the Susquehanna Greenway and the Genesee and Susquehanna (Triple Divide Greenway), linking the Great Lakes with the Chesapeake Bay.
From backpacking to bikepacking
Growing up in the ‘70s I was bit by the backpacking bug while in Boy Scouts, culminating in a trip to the Philmont Scout Ranch in the Sangre de Christo Mountains of northeast New Mexico. Backpacking remained an activity I enjoyed throughout my 20s. Living in Oregon in the 1990s I had peaks (Rainier, Hood, Adams and St. Helens), lush forests and high desert to explore.
Then life happened—a job, marriage, kids. I took a 20-year hiatus from backpacking. In my 50s I find the feet and knees are not what they once were. Then I discovered ‘Bikepacking,’ which combines the best of backpacking with a lower impact form of locomotion. I purchased a bike and have slowly upgraded my camping gear in favor of lightweight options. It is quite easy to travel light, and still treat yourself to a comfortable night sleep and good coffee in the a.m.
I now have a sizeable bucket list of trails to visit, including the Maah Daah Hey Trail in North Dakota (mdhta.com) and the Arizona Trail (aztrail.org). But what I really want is trail options right here at home. And the good news is that these trails already exist, in their unpolished, unmarketed and unrefined beauty.
On the road again
I spent time last winter mapping various routes to explore and the Purple Lizard maps (purplelizard.com) are the perfect scale and resolution for this type of trip planning. Beautifully designed and detailed, and made to take a beating, these maps cover all the key recreational areas in Central PA: Pine Creek Canyon, Bald Eagle and Rothrock state forests, Raystown and other areas. They were an invaluable asset in trip planning and execution. Here are some of my ‘close to home’ adventures in bikepacking in Central Pennsylvania, so far. I challenge you to try them with friends and family; growing utilization of trails will help fuel trail development.
The Ridge Trail—Muncy to Lock Haven
The Ridge Trail exists today in various trail, gravel and roadway segments. I have hiked and biked the Ridge Trail more than a half dozen times, often in 6 to 10-mile segments; I’ve biked the entire 50-mile length three times. You can bike the entire corridor in a day, but I recommend a tent and some food to make it an overnight. I like to incorporate evening and night riding, often planning the trip around the full moon. There’s something magical about rolling through the woods by moonlight.
The route consists of Armstrong Road, Skyline Drive, Summit Trail, VanDyke, Kalbfleish Road, Sand Spring Road and a short segment of Route 880 to get to Ravensburg State Park. From there you have numerous gravel road options to get you to the Lock Haven Water Authority lands, Zindel Park and on to Castanea.
Improvements necessary to make this trip safer and more marketable include a safe crossing of U.S. Route 15 and a trail option to eliminate the highway connection to Ravensburg State Park. In the long-term the Ridge Trail would ideally become a non-motorized trail by developing trail option to gravel road segments and closing little-used sections of gravel roads. The rest of the trip is gated forest roads and trails. Rolling ridge top scenery highlights the Lycoming County portion of the Ridge Trail, whereas the sound of rushing streams and coolness of mountain hollows characterizes the public lands in Clinton County.
Wellsboro to Raystown Lake
Last spring, during April’s ‘Pink Moon,’ I took a 3-½ day trip with the goal of identifying a north-south route across the state. The end result was a 170-mile trip from Wellsboro Junction to Raystown Lake. The first 60 miles was an easy ride down the Pine Creek Rail Trail. Days two and three featured beautiful scenery and lots of elevation gain as I navigated the backroads and trails through Bald Eagle and Rothrock state forests, passing through Poe Valley and Greenwood Furnace state parks, and finishing with a series of scenic roadways, and fording Standing Stone Creek, to enter Huntingdon.
This trip proved you can easily map and execute a long-distance trip primarily on Bureau of Forestry public lands, and there are dozens of route options that could create a unique trail experience for the adventurer.
24-Hour Weekend Ramble
This bikepacking outing started from my home in Lewisburg at 5:30 p.m. Friday, planning to meet up with family and friends at R.B. Winter State Park the following evening. I rode the Buffalo Valley Rail Trail to Mifflinburg, and navigated backroads along scenic Penns Creek. At Cherry Run you take the rail trail to Poe Paddy and gravel roads on to Poe Valley State Park. Thanks to the extended daylight in June, I was able to make the 40-mile trip to Poe Valley before dark. The next day I traversed a series of gravel roads and trails that included old favorites as well as trail segments I had never been on before. While the second day was fewer miles, it included climbing three ridges as I rode against the grain of the ridge and valley. Pedaling into R.B. Winter State Park at 6 p.m., I was tired and greeted by friendly people, a campfire and lots of food.
A trip like the ‘weekend ramble’ allows you to travel light, which expands the range of your biking. Staying in a cabin allows you to leave the tent at home. Your primary concern is the right clothing, and enough food and water. Essential items include: bike pump, tools and extra tube to fix a flat tire, a camera to document the beauty and a sleeping bag in the event you don’t make it to your destination and need to camp out. Remember the timeless lesson from scouting—be prepared.
Brian Auman is a landscape architect, community planner and weekend bike rider living in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania. www.BSAlandplan.com