An open letter to Lebanon County, Pa.: Finish the trail!

The Lebanon Valley Rail Trail could one day be the centerpiece of at least 33 miles of uninterrupted trail. Give us a reason to come back and spend more money: Finish it faster.

Dear Lebanon County,

You’ve got a lovely trail in the Lebanon Valley Rail Trail. Four of us from out of state came to bike it last weekend. Thumbs up for so much shade on a sunny summer day, the benches and shelters, the many trailheads with parking. And wow was it busy.

I know it’s not yet done. A friendly volunteer at the Root Beer Barrel explained how it will eventually connect to the Swatara State Park trails at the northern end. Combined with the 5 miles from Lancaster County’s Conewago Recreational Trail at the southern end, I figure you’ll be the centerpiece of at least 33 miles of uninterrupted trail, maybe closer to 40. That’s plenty to keep cyclists, walkers, runners and others happy. Very happy.

But now? When we got to the end of the trail between Chestnut and Cumberland streets in Lebanon, we couldn’t figure out how to reach the next segment. I gather you’re closing that gap in 2020, or maybe even this year, but in the interim, a signed on-road route would have been helpful.

Yet another gap — Phase 10 on this map — won’t be closed until 2021, according to this article.

And then there’s this other big gap — Phase 8 on the map, with everything marked TBD. I can’t figure out what’s happening there based on this update. How about an interim on-road section here by 2021 so that there’s a way to relatively easily experience all the other sections?

Stepping back a bit and trying to read between the lines, I can’t help but wonder how much of this trail development (and maintenance) is being spearheaded by Lebanon Valley Rails-to Trails — so a non-profit and an impressive group of volunteers — rather than local government using its own funds to accelerate the project. I’m sure government is lurking behind the scenes. I hope I’m wrong and its support for the trail is much bigger than the low profile it has in articles I’ve found.

But could it do more?

I know trails aren’t easy to build, what with landowner issues and permits that can take longer than expected to receive. I always say finish a trail faster, but sometimes that’s not realistic. And yes, doing this does mean spending taxpayer money. Which sometimes can be an issue.

So is it worth spending money to speed up completion of this trail? I say don’t discount the economic impact, especially if you can create and market(!) that broader network to Elizabethtown (hello, Amtrak station that can bring riders from Philadelphia) and the 14-mile Northwest Lancaster County River Trail a few miles from on the other side of Elizabethtown that we had hoped to ride on this trip as well. Cyclists will travel for good riding, just like we did. And while our planned weekend in the area was cut down to just one day, we still spent plenty at an area restaurant (and would have spent more had the line for ice cream not been insane). Give us a reason to come back.

I know you’ve got tourist business from those visiting nearby Hershey Park, but your trail can give those people reason to linger for another day. Yet more economic impact.

And don’t forget the locals. We saw a sign advertising housing off the trail. A trail is a great amenity to have on your doorstep. Great for property values — and your tax base.

So do what you can to accelerate completion of this trail. It will pay off handsomely.

Author: alliumstozinnias

A gardener (along with the Brit) who has discovered there is more than hybrid tomatoes. And a cyclist.

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