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County eyes plan involving trails

As president of the Anthracite Scenic Trails Association, Judy Rimple knows how to build a walkway through the woods. The association obtains right-of-ways, money for design and funding for construction, but then the trail work hits a dead end.

“It stops at maintenance,” Rimple said. “We can get money for everything else but that.”

And it’s costly.

Rimple said the two-mile Back Mountain Trail costs between $2,000 and $5,000 a year to maintain. Consider the 17 trails that Luzerne County is looking to combine into one network, and the estimated maintenance cost soars to $1.16 million. It’s a figure that presents a huge challenge to the various groups that oversee the passageways. But there may be a solution.

County officials are awaiting the results of a feasibility study that will provide options for managing, promoting and utilizing the growing number of trail miles and other outdoor recreation amenities in the area.

Urban Research and Development Corporation of Bethlehem is conducting the study, which will be completed by the end of the year. It will then go to the county commissioners, who will pick and choose elements of the study they want to implement.

Brian Cope, a community planner with URDC, said the county has designated 17 trails to be included in the study. They include the Susquehanna Water Trail, Back Mountain Trail, West Side Trail and the Susquehanna Warrior Trail.

One possible scenario is to incorporate the 17 trails into a central network.

That makes sense, according to county Commissioner Todd Vonderheid, considering the high maintenance cost.

Vonderheid said the $1.16 million figure is based on a standard trail maintenance formula. Because every trail has different terrain and different maintenance needs, he expects the figure to fluctuate.

Still, Vonderheid said a central trail organization would be a benefit financially and in a management sense.

“Before we even had a (maintenance) figure, it was compelling to get these groups together,” he said. “The recreation community in Northeast Pennsylvania needs to be better coordinated to get a better bang for the buck. Trails are just one important component of that.”

Rimple said a central trail organization would be a “godsend,” considering there are more than 100 miles of trails sprawling throughout the county. Creation of that organization, if it comes to that, doesn’t mean the organization will take over all the trails.

“It simply means working together,” she said. “I am optimistic yet realistic. We want destinations and links for the trails, and I can’t imagine the groups can’t work together, but it’s going to take some time.”

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