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Upper Bucks Rail Trail officially opens to the public


It’s not often that local, state, and federal officials can agree on anything.

But the Upper Bucks Rail Trail is the rare shining exception to that unfortunate rule.

More than a decade in the making, the project required bipartisan cooperation among two local municipalities (Richland and Springfield townships) and spanned two county commissioner administrations. It needed support from state Rep. Craig Staats and Congressman Brian Fitzpatrick, assistance from SEPTA, Quakertown Alive! and the Upper Bucks Chamber of Commerce, and input from the Appalachian Mountain Club.

And still it got done, on time and under budget.

“This speaks to the fact that people from all political parties have worked to get this trail open,” said County Commissioners Chair Diane Marseglia during a ribbon-cutting celebration Thursday in the Richland Township Fire and Rescue parking lot to officially open the trail. “Many iterations of government, both local and county, lots of transitions of power, have gone through and yet this was still able to be completed.”

Carved out of the trees and brush along the right of way adjacent to SEPTA’s former Bethlehem Branch railroad, which ceased operations almost 40 years ago, the Upper Bucks Rail Trail extends from Veterans Memorial Park in Richland Township to Lehigh County.

The 3.2-mile, 12-foot-wide multi-use trail includes an 800-foot boardwalk that spans a wetland area in Springfield Township. It connects Bucks County to the popular Saucon Rail Trail in Lehigh and Northampton Counties, and is part of the Appalachian Mountain Club Pennsylvania Highlands Regional Trails Network, as well as The Circuit – an 800-mile bicycle network under construction throughout 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.

The project cost approximately $1.5 million to design and build – about $300,000 less than originally estimated – and was funded entirely from PennDOT’s Act 13 Marcellus Legacy Fund.

“This is something we need right now to connect us to nature, to connect us to our physical selves to connect us with other people we will meet along the way,” said Marseglia.

In addition to promoting fitness, local officials are also hoping the trail will spur economic development in the area. The Nature Based Placemaking Project, led by Quakertown Alive and funded by the Pennsylvania Downtown Center and the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, has led to new trail-related improvements, including new signage, bike racks, bike repair stations, and a $30,000 Walkworks grant from the Pa. Department of Health to develop a regional active transportation plan.

“We look forward to all the opportunities the trail will bring,” said Danielle Bodnar, executive director of the Upper Bucks Chamber of Commerce.

Tom Marino, chairman of the Richland Township Parks and Recreation Committee, said talks are already underway with SEPTA for Phase 2, which would connect the trail from Veterans Park to downtown Quakertown, an additional two miles. With the emergence of the Liberty Trail pushing north into Quakertown, the borough is becoming the “epicenter of trail towns,” said Marino.

“You will have two major Pennsylvania greenways intersecting here,” he said, “It’s really, really a cool spot to be right now.”