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This post has been updated with additional photographs from the day’s events, courtesy Song Kim of the Lebanon County Planning Department. A correction has also been made regarding Tom Kotay, who retired from transportation planning in 2016.
On Thursday, two recently-completed sections of the Lebanon Valley Rails to Trails (LVRT), in west Lebanon and southwest Jonestown, were officially opened for public use, marking a major community accomplishment for the county.
The first ribbon cutting occurred at noon near the southern end of Union Canal Tunnel Park, and the second followed an hour later at a 1927-era iron bridge crossing the Swatara Creek near Jonestown.
The celebrations followed a meeting at the Lebanon City Municipal Building that morning updating and summarizing the status of the project, which began with five miles of trail opened back in 2000. Following the second cutting, the gathered ensemble of officials and onlookers paid a visit to the former site of the Inwood Iron Bridge, lifted off the river earlier this summer. The replacement bridge will connect a future segment of the LVRT to the current trails in Swatara State Park.
Celebrating the ribbon cuttings were a multitude of county and local officials and representatives from LVRT, the Lebanon County Metropolitan Planning Organization, the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT), and the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR).
Among the 60 or so people in attendance were County Commissioners Bob Phillips, Jo Ellen Litz, and Bill Ames, City of Lebanon Mayor Sherry Capello, DCNR Deputy Secretary Lauren Imgrund, Project Manager Leona Barr of PennDOT District 8, and a number of other individuals associated with the project. LVRT President John Wengert and LVRT Board member Tom Kotay spoke, highlighting the work of the all-volunteer organization, as well as the many partnerships, funding, and cooperation from private and governmental sources.
After the ceremony, Friends of the Union Canal Tunnel Park member Pete Silldorff wowed onlookers with his restored 1874 penny-farthing bicycle, which he rode all the way to the end of the trail at Long Lane.
The Union Canal segment, known as Phase 7 of the LVRT system, stretches around 1.8 miles from the trailhead at 25th Street and Hanford Drive to Long Lane. It runs along the southern edge of the Union Canal Tunnel Park, with several entrances branching into the park itself. A mixture of exposed and shaded trail, the route passes by several farms, private residences, and small ponds. Particularly noteworthy is the tunnel burrowing below Tunnel Hill Road, built for the project in 2017 by engineering company Wilson Consulting Group, PC and contractor J. D. Eckman, Inc. All told, Phase 7 took two years to build.
The second ceremony, in the Frog Hollow/Bunker Hill area southwest of Jonestown, took place an hour later at Phase 9 of the LVRT. Standing on the newly-redecked 152-foot iron bridge crossing the Swatara, Wengert and Kotay spoke again on the trail’s significance to the community. This section can be accessed from West Market Street by the Swatara Creek, and a small parking area can be found on the opposite bank.
Phase 9 runs around 1.7 miles from below Route 22 to a private road that leads out onto New Bunker Hill Street. It boasts a beautiful view from the trail’s bridge, along with small fields and woodland.
The celebrations mark the latest of several milestones completed so far in 2019. LebTown reported in April on the updates for Phase 10 of the project (stretching from Jonestown to Lickdale) and LVRT’s North Cornwall Commons connection, and in July on the “soft opening” of Phase 7 (when the trail was unofficially opened for public use).
One of the next segments to see progress is what is technically referred to as Phase 9C. It’s at a tunnel below Route 22 at the start of Phase 10, the Jonestown-Lickdale segment still being worked on. Wengert’s especially eager to open this portion of trail, as it runs through lush woodlands and offers spectacular views of the surrounding landscape. Kotay referred to Phase 10 as “pristine… These are lands that most of us have never seen or walked on.” Part of Phase 10 runs along an old creek-side towpath.
As for Phase 8, the major 2.8-mile segment connecting Phases 7 and 9, progress is slow but steady. According to Wengert, this section will be opened last, as there’s still much work to be done. When complete, Phase 8 will run from Long Lane at Phase 7 to the current southern end of Phase 9.
The grand vision for the project is the eventual completion of all phases, thus creating a county-long pathway. “We are two steps closer to creating a trail that will stretch from Lancaster County all the way to Swatara State Park,” said Wengert.
For eager trail enthusiasts, Thursday’s weather couldn’t have been better. See more photos below from the new sections.
Phase 7 (25th Street to Long Lane)
Phase 9 (West Market Street to Frog Hollow)
Looking for more about the Rail Trail? Here’s our previous coverage.
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