The Lebanon Valley Rail Trail (LVRT) has broken ground on a new section of trail that, when finished, will feature approximately two miles of mixed-use trail and a new city park along Chestnut Street.

The groundbreaking of Phase 6, specifically subsections 6A and 6B, took place on the morning of Feb. 24 at the future site of the John E. Wengert Memorial Park on Chestnut Street. LVRT president John B. Wengert spoke to an assembled crowd of several dozen officials and supporters about the details of the project.

“We’ve been working for five or six years to get to this point,” Wengert told the crowd, describing the LVRT as a “regionally significant trail.”

Those in attendance included board members of the LVRT and the Lebanon Valley Conservancy, Lebanon Mayor Sherry Capello, state Senator Chris Gebhard, and County Commissioners Michael Kuhn, Jo Ellen Litz, and Robert Phillips, among other volunteers, planners, and supporters of the project.

LVRT president John Wengert speaks on Friday morning to an assembly of officials and planners of Phase 6. (Groh)

“This is the result of a great partnership with the County Commissioners, Lebanon Valley Rail Trail, and the Lebanon Valley Conservancy,” Wengert continued. He thanked the local and state partners and officials present as well as a number of other individuals involved in planning and coordination including Todd Dissinger, Tom Kotay, Jonathan Fitzkee of the Lebanon County Metropolitan Planning Organization, and former state Senator David “Chip” Brightbill.

Read More: Phase Six of Lebanon Valley Rail Trail will connect urban to rural, town to country

Phase 6 is composed of four subsections that, when completed, will link the trail’s current end at Chestnut Street to another completed section of trail at 25th Street.

It includes the development of the John E. Wengert Memorial Park, named for LVRT president Wengert’s late father, a founding chair and former president of the Lebanon Valley Conservancy. Wengert described Phase 6 as “[probably] the most complex phase” of the Rail Trail in 2021, owing to the logistics of trail development in an urban environment.

“This will be a hub, down the road, for what’s going to be a rail trail extending from Elizabethtown in Lancaster County through to Swatara State Park,” Wenger said. “The City of Lebanon should benefit from this.”

A 2021 site plan for the John E. Wengert Memorial Park. (LVRT)

The Wengert Memorial Park will cover roughly four acres and is planned to include a parking space, pavilions, additional trails, native vegetation plantings, and possible further additions such as age-specific playgrounds. Its development has aided in the planning of Phase 6, which had previously faced a routing challenge: LVRT was unable to secure right-of-way agreements with Norfolk Southern Railway, the current owner of the unused railway corridor north of Chestnut Street.

According to Wengert, the largest challenge in the development of Phase 6 has been in funding. The completed fundraising for the new sections of Phase 6 has totaled around $1.9 million, with an addition $1 million dedicated for the construction of the park. Most funding has been gained through state grants.

An overview of Phase 6 and its subsections. The Friday groundbreaking marks the beginning of construction on 6A and 6B; the remaining two sections will be developed later. (LVRT)
The complete map of trails throughout Lebanon and surrounding counties. Note that some details of the completion and progress of various segments are now outdated. Click here for a high-res image of the map that will open in a new tab. (LVRT)

The subsections 6A and 6B will extend the trail from Chestnut Street to 22nd Street, south of the Quittapahilla Creek and Lebanon Valley Mall. The park will be part of 6A, which transitions into 6B at South 16th Street.

Subsection 6C will run over a planned new 22nd Street bridge up to the parking lot of the Lebanon Valley Mall, where 6D will begin and run along the outside east edge of the mall property and through the 25th Street tunnel just south of the Union Canal Tunnel Park.

Read More: S. 22nd Street to be realigned with new bridge over Quittie Creek; $1.3M grant sets stage for phase 6C of LV Rail Trail

Work will begin at the 6B end at South 22nd Street and make its way over to Chestnut Street. The current estimation for completion of the trail is May 2024, though it could be finished sooner depending on weather and other variables. The fully funded 6C link is planned to begin construction next, and LVRT is currently working with the Lebanon Valley Mall for right-of-way access required for 6D.

As of October 2022, no funding had been secured for 6D.

The Lebanon Valley Rail Trail begins at the Lancaster County border, where the five-mile Conewago Recreation Trail transitions into the longest existing section of trail in Lebanon County. The 15 miles of trail beginning there pass by the communities of Lawn, Colebrook, Mount Gretna, and Cornwall before ending at Chestnut Street in Lebanon.

Phase 7, the section beginning at 25th Street and passing alongside the Union Canal Tunnel Park, was officially opened in 2019 and runs for 1.7 miles to Long Lane.

Read More: Rails to Trails celebrates new extensions, four miles of additional trail now open

Wengert stated that some funding has already been secured for Phase 10, a three-mile section linking the existing Phase 9 in Jonestown to the Swatara State Park trailhead at Lickdale. Phase 8, connecting from Long Lane to Bunker Hill Road, is in the process of land acquisition and will likely be the last section of trail to be finished.

In 2022, LVRT celebrated 25 years of work on the entire trail project. When its decades-long development of the trail is finished, Lebanon County will boast over 43 miles of connected trail, allowing visitors to travel between Lancaster, Schuylkill, and Dauphin counties (a proposed on-road link from Swatara State Park will connect the Lebanon Valley Rail Trail to the existing Stony Valley Rail Trail in Lebanon and Dauphin counties).

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Josh Groh is a Cornwall native and writer who began reporting for LebTown in 2019. He continued to regularly contribute to LebTown while earning a degree in environmental science at Lebanon Valley College, graduating in 2021. Since then, he has lead conservation crews in Colorado and taken on additional...

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