by Joan Hellyer
Bucks County residents are encouraged this summer to walk, jog, bike or kayak the more than 330 miles of the Circuit Trail Network in the nine counties of the greater Philadelphia region.
The trails make up one of the largest trail networks in the United States. The network includes the historic towpath trail along the Delaware and Lehigh National Heritage Corridor that runs from Easton to Bristol Borough.
Members of the Circuit Trails Coalition want people to enjoy the existing trails and understand why efforts are underway to more than double the interconnected trail offerings to 800 miles by 2040.
“It’s an incredible vision and very doable,” said Sarah Clark Stuart, the coalition’s chairwoman. “We are always a project closer to being finished and coming to online.”
To help achieve the long-range goal the coalition is striving to construct more than 160 miles of trail by 2025 to make the network 500 miles in length, said Sarah, who also serves as executive director of the Bicycling Coalition of Greater Philadelphia.
Almost 65 nonprofit organizations, foundations and agencies belong to the coalition and work to advance the non-profit’s mission to establish the trails network.
Sometimes the pieces of the newly constructed trail are less than a mile in length and are used to connect long stretches of existing trails.
One of the more recent connections was made along a quarter-mile stretch of the Delaware Canal at the Falls-Morrisville border.
Hikers and bikers previously had to cross rail lines to get from one part of the Delaware Canal towpath to another.
But those days are over since the CSX Passageway in Morrisville and the Tyburn Road Gap opened in June.
The pedestrian tunnel and trail provide users with a safe link along the Delaware and Lehigh Trail, advocates say.
The only other area of the D&L Trail that needs to be connected to make the 60-mile pathway unobstructed is “a couple hundred feet” off Bridge Street near Pennsylvania Avenue and Route 1 in Morrisville Borough, coalition member Andy Hamilton said.
People who use the trail currently cross Bridge Street to get from one side of the disconnected towpath to the other.
Construction could begin later this year or in 2020 on a link to make the trail contiguous, Andy said.
The Doylestown Township resident is the board chairman of the planned 1,300-mile September 11 National Memorial Trail.
It will begin at the crash site of Flight 93 in western Pennsylvania and go up to New York City to the site of the 2001 World Trade Center attacks. The tribute trail will then work its way down to the Pentagon just outside of Washington D.C. and back to the Flight 93 site in Somerset County.
The 9-11 trail will eventually include parts of the Circuit Trail Network to carry the memorial route through Eastern Pennsylvania, Andy said.
It costs about $1 million to construct a mile of a trail, Sarah said. Funding comes from federal, state, county and municipal sources as well as grant programs.
In all, about 50 miles of the trail network within the Philadelphia region are under construction, she said.
In addition to Bucks, the Circuit Trails also pass through Chester, Delaware, Montgomery and Philadelphia counties in Pennsylvania and four Burlington, Camden, Gloucester, and Mercer counties in New Jersey.
More than 100 municipal and county governing panels have passed non-binding resolutions in support of having 500 miles of trails along the network on line by 2025.
“Our community’s health, wellness, and happiness thrive as a result of access to a diverse network of trails that ultimately enable connections to destinations all across our region,” Sarah said. “To have a show of support from so many local government bodies means we are unified in our commitment to connecting the network and connecting the people and destinations across those nine counties to each other.”
The Bucks County Commissioners adopted their resolution September 6th, 2017.
More than 100 miles of different trails already are on line in Bucks County and almost 100 miles more are planned, said Evan Stone, the executive director of the Bucks County Planning Commission.
The trails provide the region with many quality of life and economic benefits, he said.
“Trails are an investment in open space and serve as linear parks that promote and enable healthy living and greater community connections,” Evan said.
People can use the trails to explore education centers, museums, parks, waterfronts, breweries and other destinations, Sarah said.
In addition to walking, running, hiking, biking or kayaking, the trails can also be used for yoga, bird watching and rollerblading.
To encourage people to use the off-road network, the non-profit coalition is staging an interactive Circuit Trails Scavenger Hunt through the end of September.
The hunt involves different activities for trail users to do for the chance to win prizes.
To learn more about the scavenger hunt and the Circuit Trail Network go to circuittrails.org.