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Greenways & Trails Summit brings experts from all over the state to Scranton

WeConservePA's Greenways and Trails Summit was held from Sept. 17 to 19 at the Hilton Hotel in downtown Scranton.
Kat Bolus
WeConservePA's Greenways and Trails Summit was held from Sept. 17 to 19 at the Hilton Hotel in downtown Scranton.

Beginning Sunday, outdoor recreationalists and stakeholders from across the state were in Scranton. They heard from a variety of people about a variety of projects at the Pennsylvania Greenways & Trails Summit.

Organized by WeConserve PA, the summit offered training, networking and keynote speakers touching on the topic of greenways and trails.

Pennsylvania is positioning itself as an outdoor recreation destination. The state hired Nathan Reigner in 2021 as the first Director of Outdoor Recreation. Governor Josh Shapiro’s 2023-24 budget proposal includes $2.8 million dollars, which will help create a state Office of Outdoor Recreation.

The theme of the summit was Connecting an Industrious Past with an Innovative Future. Topics discussed ranged from active transportation and healthy community movements to motorized trails, connecting communities and the economic impacts of outdoor recreation. In total, there were 44 workshops and mobile seminars. Around 250 people attended a portion of the 3-day summit. They biked the D&H Trail and the Lackawanna River Heritage Trail and visited Wyoming County's first state park, Vosburg Neck, among other opportunities to get outside in Northeast Pennsylvania.

WeConserve PA is formerly the Pennsylvania Land Trust Association. The nonprofit is based in Harrisburg and helps conserve land, protect and restore waterways, implement sustainable practices and connect people to the outdoors.

A host of local representatives from outdoor, conservation and municipal organizations served on the planning committee and shared their expertise during the summit.

WVIA News listened in during a couple of sessions.

Trends in Motorized Recreation

Motorized Recreation is commonplace in states surrounding Pennsylvania, said Jim Laird, research director of the Pennsylvania Off-Highway Vehicle Association.

"We have like 7,000 miles of rail trails in Pennsylvania, we have about 7,000 miles of snowmobile trails, but we have about 300 legal miles of ATV trails," he said.

At least 30,000 ATVS are registered in Pennsylvania, he said. And while that number grows by 5% every year, there are a lot of unregistered ATVs in the state, he said. Many people who ride four wheelers, side-by-sides and dirt bikes do so at private parks or illegally.

Laird said that motorized recreation has the ability to bring in economic development to blighted regions in the state, especially areas that were previously coal mined.

Laird presented at the summit with Bill Ritting. They both agreed that motorized recreation is an adaptable sport for people with disabilities. Ritting has cerebral palsy and said, while he’s still trying to find the best vehicle for him, he’s been able to see places he wouldn’t otherwise be able to see.

Dickson City Borough - a Case Study in Economic Development led by Outdoor Revitalization Strategies 

In 2012, the economic outlook of Dickson City in Lackawanna County was not good, said Jeff Kovaleski, borough council president.

At the time, Kovaleski and council said: "We have to figure this out. Because things just aren't going in the right direction."

Kovaleski called Dickson City a tale of two cities. Off Business Route 6 and Commerce Boulevard, there are many big box stores and restaurants. But on actual Main Street, they have dilapidated buildings.

In 2015, they hired a firm to do a downtown business plan. A vision emerged that Dickson City is the doorway to the Lackawanna River.

Since then, the borough has been in the process of opening a new greenspace, Riverfront Park. It has a dog park and a non-motorized boat launch. The borough is also upgrading the rest of its existing four parks.

Dickson City is seeking grants for murals, bike lanes and streetscapes. They’re hoping to bring back the borough’s once beautiful Main Street, said Kovaleski.

Jayson Wood is co-owner of Woodland Design. He’s a registered landscape architect who works with the borough. He presented alongside Kovaleski.

"We realized that most of this is outdoor focused, getting people out to raise quality of life and use our public spaces and enjoy the town as much as possible," he said.

I-84 Twin Bridges/North Pocono Trail

Above Roaring Brook Creek and below Interstate 84 in Dunmore sits an old railroad bridge. The last time it was used was the 1950s, until now when the state needed it.

PennDOT is currently halfway through completing a bridge replacement and interchange configuration on I-84 in Lackawanna County. The project started in 2020 and has to be completed by 2025. Once the road repairs are finished, a new 3.5 mile walking and biking trail will open underneath, including on a portion of the former Erie & Wyoming Valley (E&WV) bridge.

Timothy Benner is project manager for the I-84 project. He’s also a bridge engineer. When they began researching how to bring in the materials needed to replace the interstate’s bridges they saw the former railroad bridge as the solution.

Resurfacing and stabilizing the bridge meant they didn’t have to disrupt the active D&L railroad beneath.

"Having that connection in place makes a world of difference from a constructability standpoint, efficiency standpoint and saves a ton of money," he said.

The former railroad bridge was built in the late 1800s. They couldn’t find any structural information on the bridge so they had to analyze it from scratch, said Brenner.

"It was actually in pretty good shape, even the stone substructures were in good shape," he said.

Because of when it was built, it could have been made of iron, he said.

"This is one of the earliest carbon steel structures that I've ever seen," Benner said.

Once complete, the bridge will have a 12-foot-wide concrete deck on it for walkers and bikers. The bridge will be turned over to Lackawanna County and the plan is for it to be part of a 3.5 mile trail that will stretch from Elmhurst to Dunmore.

Right now the E&WV Bridge is an active construction site and is not open to the public.

The Impact of Tying in Trails

Recreational facilities do more than just create an environment that’s welcoming for people who live an active lifestyle.

Representatives from Pennsylvania Downtown Center and the Tri-County Regional Planning Commission, both in the Harrisburg area, advised recreational professionals on planning for and executing trail implementation.

Julie Fitzpatrick, Executive Director of the Pennsylvania Downtown Center, works with Pennsylvania cities and small towns. They promote the concept of “nature-based placemaking,” which promotes active transportation.

She pointed out the importance of pedestrian-friendly downtowns, and the wide impact it has on quality of life for residents. The impact extends to health, traffic and economic sectors.

“It’s something that I think we can look at on a smaller scale,” she said. “Instead of thinking of economic development as bringing in a single corporation that might potentially bring in 100 or 200 jobs, we can think of this as sort of cottage industries. And instead of thinking about one new business with 150 jobs, we can think of 15 new businesses that bring ten jobs.”

They said connecting sidewalks and trails, and creating safe roadways is the way to attract people to visit and live in a place.

Those who can’t necessarily walk, run, or bike are not excluded from active transportation, Fitzpatrick said. The category includes everything from horseback riding, to pogo sticking, to motorized scooters.

Several planners, funders, designers, systems and organizations have to work together to bring trail plans to fruition. Presenters suggested that municipal planners include economic, transportation and health leaders in the conversation.

The Pennsylvania Downtown Center said connecting sidewalks and trails, and creating safe roadways is the way to attract people to visit and live in a place.

Kat Bolus is the community reporter for the newly-formed WVIA News Team. She is a former reporter and columnist at The Times-Tribune, a Scrantonian and cat mom.

You can email Kat at katbolus@wvia.org
Haley joined the WVIA news team in 2023 as a reporter and host. She grew up in Scranton and studied Broadcast Journalism at Marywood University. Haley has experience reporting in Northeast Pennsylvania and the Lehigh Valley. She enjoys reporting on Pennsylvania history and culture, and video storytelling.

You can email Haley at haleyobrien@wvia.org