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Rail trail opens in Richland Township


The Bethlehem Branch of the old Reading Railroad hasn’t carried passengers for nearly 40 years. A 3.5-mile section between Richland Township and the Lehigh County line is covered with thick brush and old railroad ties.

But starting next spring, walkers, joggers, and bikers will be able to traverse the right-of-way after it is cleared on a 12-foot wide ribbon of crushed stone thanks to a decade-long cooperative effort among the township, Quakertown Borough, the Bucks County Commissioners, SEPTA and trail advocacy group.

About 60 people turned out on a recent warm weekday morning for the ceremonial groundbreaking of the Upper Bucks Trail that will connect Bucks County to a growing network of biking and walking trails through the region.

This is the first time the county has become involved with a trail outside of its own park system, said County Commissioners Chair Rob Loughery.

“There’s more to come,” he said, noting groundbreaking for the Newtown Trail is expected to happen this fall.

Construction cost for the Upper Bucks Trail is estimated at between $1.6 million and $2 million, according to Loughery. It will be paid with funds coming from PennDOT’s Marcellus Legacy Fund, he said.

Not only will the Upper Bucks Trail connect Veterans Memorial Park in Richland to the popular Saucon Trail in Lehigh and Northampton counties, but it will also provide access to existing trails and sidewalks in Richland and Quakertown. Officials believe there could be an economic boost for the borough from people exploring downtown attractions while using the trail.

State Rep. Craig Staats, who was a Richland supervisor when the trail was proposed more than a decade ago, said he is hoping the trail will “promote some folks to leave the car at home and perhaps walk or bike into town.”

Staats said one of the most frequent questions he has heard from constituents over the last few years has been the status of the trail project.

“Now we’ve got something to show them and something to talk about,” he said before presenting a certificate of appreciation to Evan Stone, executive director of the Bucks County Planning Commission.

Loughery said the groundbreaking turnout was clear evidence of how important active recreation is to residents.

“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,” he said.

Tom Marino, chair of the Richland Township Park and Recreation Board, admitted the project seemed to move “at a glacial pace. “Seeing an event like this come together is really kind of exciting,” he said.

Marino thanked the Appalachian Mountain Club for helping to make the trail a reality. The Upper Bucks Trail will link Bucks County to the 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.

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.

SEPTA General Manager Jeffrey Knueppel, who lives in Bucks Couty and is an avid bicyclist, said the trail will “knit the community together. This really is transportation; it’s just not SEPTA.”

Nate Dorfman, trails and recreation coordinator for the Pennsylvania Environmental Council, 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.

Dorfman promised to come next spring when the trail is open.

“The only thing better than a groundbreaking is a ribbon-cutting, he said.

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