A “missing link” in the local trail network could be bridged if a $1.8 million grant application to the state Department of Conservation & Natural Resources (DCNR) is approved.
Channel 69 News reported Tuesday that Bethlehem City Council approved a resolution to apply for the grant, which would fund land acquisition that has to occur before the city’s South Bethlehem Greenway can be connected with the Saucon Rail Trail in Hellertown.
The grant would also pay for engineering and trail construction between Auburn Street in Bethlehem and W. Clark Street in Hellertown, according to a memorandum from city council president Michael Colón to Director of Communty and Economic Development Laura Collins.
The Saucon Rail Trail opened in the spring of 2011 and currently extends 6.9 miles from Bachman Street in Hellertown south to Coopersburg, where it connects with the Upper Bucks Rail Trail that opened in November 2020. The Upper Bucks Rail Trail is a 3.3 mile recreational trail that stretches through Springfield Township to Veterans Park in Richland Township, just north of Quakertown borough.
Bethlehem’s Southside Greenway also opened in 2011, just a few months after the ribbon was cut on the nearby rail trail. The leafy pedestrian thoroughfare is aligned along an east-west axis from S. New Street to near Wind Creek casino, where it bends toward the south.
Over the past dozen years, a significant obstacle to connecting the two pathways has reportedly been access to the right-of-way along which trains once traveled nearly parallel to the Saucon Creek; property that is owned by Norfolk Southern Corporation.
Under a long-term lease agrement the Saucon Rail Trail was constructed on a SEPTA right-of-way through four municipalities, including Hellertown, Lower Saucon Township, Upper Saucon Township and Coopersburg. Train service on the SEPTA line ceased in the 1970s.
Since opening nearly a dozen years ago, the Saucon Rail Trail has drawn visitors as well as new residents to the area, where it has also been credited with helping boost business for established downtown Hellertown retailers and attracting new investment in the borough.
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