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Will to succeed speeds Perkiomen Trail completion

Challenges to the proposed trail included 157 land owners and the need to forego Federal funding— but the support of elected officials brought the project to completion in record time.

From Montgomery County, Pennsylvania

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Montgomery County, Pennsylvania, celebrated the grand dedication of the Perkiomen Trail last November, a magnificent 22-mile stretch of recreation for hikers, bikers and equestrians. Perhaps as impressive as the trail itself was Montgomery County's ability to acquire, design and construct it in just three and one-half years.

 

"Time was as important as dollars spent," said former Commissioner Chairman Michael D. Marino, who spearheaded the effort to complete the trail and vowed to have it completed before he left office at the end of December.

"Various attempts to develop the trail failed because of adjacent landowner objections and claims of reversions."

The trail cost $9.7 million to build. Federal, state and other governmental programs will reimburse the County for nearly $2 million of that sum. The County could have used federal funds to pay for the entire trail, but that would have taken at least 12 years and cost twice as much.

"By getting 200,000 to 300,000 people per year enjoying the trail for the five to 10 years it would have taken us to do the job with Federal money, we accomplished a lot," Marino said.

Those trail users created a groundswell of support that enabled County officials to make the hard decisions to push through opposition from those who didn't want it built.

"In addition to strong political leadership and grass roots support, an element necessary to completing a project like this in such short order is clear plan for what the trail will be, where it will go and how it will be built," said John Wood, chief open space planner for Montgomery County.

The abandoned Perkiomen Branch of the Reading Railroad was purchased by the County in 1978. However, until 1996 various attempts to develop the trail failed because of adjacent landowner objections and claims of reversions. In 1996 the County entered litigation against the adjacent landowners for the right to use the corridor for a trail. However, the court found that the corridor had reverted to 157 different landowners.

In 1999 a new slate of County Commissioners took office and Chairman Marino vigorously supported the trail project. His command: complete the trail before the end of his term of office in 2003. With the support of his fellow Commissioners and the help of staff and volunteers, he is right on schedule.

When a court appeal was completed in 1999, the Commissioners chose to forego continued litigation in order to move ahead with acquisition of the trail. The County reassembled the corridor by purchasing land or easements from 157 landowners of 215 parcels. Where necessary, condemnation was used to acquire property.

The choice was made that the trail would be done as a "design/build" project, so that sections would be opened as soon as right of way and design was completed.

Construction work was done by staff of the County Roads and Bridges and Parks Departments. It was also decided that no federal funding would be used for the main stem of the trail, since federal and DOT requirements would have caused years of delay on design, acquisition and construction.

The Perkiomen and Schuylkill River Trails will be part of a planned 160 mile County-wide trail network&emdash; in essence a "new County park." With a new open space preservation and trail funding initiative proposed in 2004, Montgomery County is poised to build upon its role as the leader in Trail development for the 21st century in the Philadelphia region.

For more information on the Perkiomen Trail contact JCorcora@mail.montcopa.org.

 

April 2003