DENNISON TWP. – Seventy-one feet don’t seem like much when they’re part of a 165-mile stretch.
But they were significant enough that federal, state and local politicians and representatives from several recreation organizations and state agencies met at a secluded spot on Friday to dedicate a bridge.
The 71-foot span over the Reading & Northern Railroad connects large sections of the Delaware & Lehigh Trail, creating a continuous line from Mountain Top to Jim Thorpe in Carbon County. The trail runs the length of the Delaware & Lehigh National Heritage Corridor from Bristol in Bucks County to the series of Wyoming Valley trails that connect along the Susquehanna River in Wilkes-Barre.
U.S. Rep. Paul Kanjorski, D-Nanticoke, state Rep. Karen Boback, R-Harveys Lake, and county Commissioner Chairwoman Maryanne Petrilla spoke, each noting the extensive cooperation required to bring dreams such as this to reality.
“Creation of a trail like this seems simple. … However, it’s actually daunting,” said Lorne Possinger, who works for the state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources.
Speakers highlighted and congratulated the various entities that helped, including: Luzerne County which provided a $20,000 matching grant early in the process for the master plan; the state Department of Transportation for saving the bridge for reuse; the Anthracite Scenic Trails Council for agreeing to take ownership of the bridge; and $680,000 in federal funding that paid to install the bridge and improve streetscaping in White Haven.
The bridge once spanned Interstate 81 near Avoca but was removed, split into three pieces and stored in Hunlock Township until usefulness and funding coincided for a section of the span to find its new home here. Aside from cosmetic concerns – on profile, the original edge of the bridge is rounded while the other is sheared flat – the bridge fit almost perfectly, requiring few modifications when installed in June.
A second emphasis was the potential economic boost to Pennsylvania by reusing its past infrastructure to highlight its natural resources. Boback assured it would increase tourism. Judy Rimple, president of the trails council, called the bridge a “beautiful link” that, combined with other outdoor recreation being developed, would attract people to the coal region. “We should be a mecca for recreation and healthy living,” she said.
Andy Gegaris, director of the county Department of Parks and Recreation, said there will be opportunities for businesses to take advantage of increased foot traffic by setting up shop near the trail, as other businesses had done along the corridor.
The new bridge will also have benefits for locals, said Lee Curry, a land manager with the Northeast Pennsylvania Mountain Bike Association.