Schuylkill River Greenways National Heritage Area celebrated progress on closing the trail gap connecting Schuylkill and Berks counties.
Eliminating the gap will create a 9.5-mile segment of the trail from Hamburg to Auburn.
Cyclists, community members and local officials gathered on the recently restored Auburn Schuylkill River Trail Bridge with views of the Schuylkill River as the backdrop on Oct. 6.
“Linking communities together, that’s what it’s all about.” — Schuylkill County Commissioner Barron L Hetherington
In conjunction with this event, Schuylkill River Greenways encouraged cyclists to enjoy a six-mile fall foliage ride from the Kernsville Trailhead in Hamburg following the Bartram Section of the Schuylkill River Trail, ending at the restored Auburn trail bridge. Many attendees arrived by bicycle including state Sen. David Argall.
“I was very impressed not only by the scope of this project and how we’re gradually linking communities, which should be linked, but the fact that when I got to the parking lot in Kernsville it was full; that’s what we want to see,” Argall, a Republican who represents Schuylkill County and parts of Berks County, said, referring to those that took a shuttle from Kernsville Trailhead to the event. “Congratulations to all of you for turning this into a reality.”
“It’s a great day for Schuylkill County, a great day for Berks County,” said Deputy District Director Tom Gerhard, a representative of U.S. Rep. Dan Meuser. “We congratulate you on a job well done and look forward to the project moving forward.”
Schuylkill County Commissioners Barron L Hetherington, George F. Halcovage Jr. and Gary J. Hess applauded the progress of closing the trail gap.
“Linking communities together, that’s what it’s all about,” said Hetherington. “We need more time for recreation, more places to do it. Get our kids away from the computer and video games and come out and enjoy the natural resources we have.”
“The pandemic spoke very strongly of how important it is for us to have our natural resources and to be able to get out,” Halcovage said. “It is families that do this together and that’s the strength of what this is.”
“The drive and persistence of this board and the trail agency that does all of this is never give up,” said Hess. “You will never give up until you link all the way through from Philadelphia all the way to the headwaters of the Schuylkill (River).”
“One of the great things, and there are many, about being on a bike or on foot is it gets us into places we wouldn’t ordinarily see if we’re in a car,” said Schuylkill River Greenways Trail Project Manager Mike Szilagyi.
The rehabilitated structure is a former Pennsylvania Railroad bridge that was constructed in 1919 to cross the Schuylkill River and compete with the Reading Railroad for Schuylkill County’s anthracite coal. The historic plate girder bridge is now fitted with a new concrete trail deck and steel railings.
“Schuylkill River Greenways manages and administers a grant program called the Schuylkill River Restoration Fund and it takes both private and public resources and funds and re-grants it for watershed-wide restoration projects from Philadelphia all the way up to the headwaters in Schuylkill County,” said Schuylkill River Greenways Deputy Director Tim Fenchel.
In existence since 2006, Greenways funds projects on abandoned mine drainage, storm water, agriculture and restoration.
The Auburn Gap Project restoration project included the removal of more than 120,000 cubic yards of coal refuse from land near the trail to prevent the coal refuse from re-entering the river. The coal refuse has been recycled. The restoration, which was completed last year, included planting 2,000 native trees and shrubs and warm season grasses, said Fenchel.
Schuylkill River Greenways builds and manages the Schuylkill River Trail in Berks and Schuylkill counties with the help of several partners.
The Auburn Gap Project is made possible through federal funding from the Bureau of Abandoned Mine Reclamation, the Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement, the William Penn Foundation, and a partnership with Schuylkill County.
“I would like to make sure that we thank our funders for this project because without the funders we do not get any money and these things don’t happen,” said Schuylkill River Greenways Executive Director Elaine Schaefer. “DCNR (the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources) is giving us a significant portion of the funding for phase three.”
DCNR Recreation and Parks Advisor Lorne Possinger said DCNR supports trail building, noting that Pennsylvania has the most rail trail miles in the country.
“We’re going to add this quarter mile onto our total,” said Possinger. “We’re looking forward to the ribbon cutting for the rest of it.”
Jeanne and Ken Porter of Auburn donated an easement across their property allowing for access from the Auburn trail bridge to River Road so that the trail can connect to the Auburn section of the SRT.
“This project would not have happened without their generosity and their support,” said Schaefer. “They were so incredibly generous and kind and community spirited and community minded. Having community members and generosity like this, we’re very fortunate in this county and in this state to have people like you.”
Schaefer also thanked project partners Auburn Borough and West Brunswick Township, “Their cooperation and their patience has been really critical to the success of this project.”
She also recognized Bill Reichert of Schuylkill Headwaters Association for originally spearheading the project.
Auburn Gap Project
Phase one, which has been completed, included access roads, initial trail grading and fixing up the trail between River Road and Auburn, at a cost of $700,000. Phase two, recently completed, was the trail bridge restoration by Lycoming Supply Inc. of Williamsport at a cost of about $730,000.
Phase three connects the restored bridge to four truss bridges and links to the newly graded Auburn trail. Estimated to cost a little more than $2 million, the project goes out for bid late this fall and is set to be completed by this time next year.
“What’s important about this project is it’s closing the Auburn gap where the trail gets interrupted between Berks County and Schuylkill County,” said Hurle. “We really want to bring the trail itself, the economic development that comes with the trail and the recreation opportunities from Berks County into Schuylkill County and further up.”
The restored bridge is open to trail users, but it will not connect to the existing trail in Auburn Borough until the fall of 2022.
Once complete, cyclists and hikers will be able to travel a…