A “missing link” in the regional trail network that includes the Saucon Rail Trail is closer to being filled following an announcement by Gov. Josh Shapiro in Bethlehem last week.
Shapiro visited the Christmas City on Oct. 5 to tout what a news release termed a “$52.5 million investment for more than 225 recreation and conservation projects across Pennsylvania.”
Included in that total is a $500,000 grant the City of Bethlehem will receive to help pay for land acquisition needed to connect its South Bethlehem Greenway with the SRT in Hellertown.
“This connection would create 14 miles of contiguous trail in the region and close one of the state’s Top 10 Trail Gaps, while also improving a robust trail network in the Lehigh Valley,” the release noted.
Both the Saucon Rail Trail and Phase I of the Greenway opened in 2011, with officials at the time expressing enthusiasm for eventually connecting them as part of the area’s growing trail network.
The Bethlehem Greenway was later extended as far south as Saucon Park, bringing it to within a mile of the Saucon Rail Trail’s current northern terminus at Bachman Street in the borough.
The land needed to unite the two paths consists of a former rail line owned by Norfolk-Southern, with whom negotiations to acquire the necessary right-of-way have been ongoing for years.
It remains unclear how much longer the process to acquire the right-of-way could take, what Norfolk-Southern is seeking in terms of financial compensation and how the two trails will be joined.
However, local officials and trail advocates viewed Shapiro’s announcement as a big step toward achieving that ultimate goal.
“It’s thanks to strong local, state and federal collaboration that we’ll close the trail’s gap and get this important project done—and with it, grow our economy and foster community right here in our backyards,” said Congresswoman Susan Wild (D-7), who represents the Lehigh Valley in the U.S. House of Representatives. “I’m very proud to have secured a $2.7 million federal investment in the Bethlehem Greenway Trail, and I’ll continue to work alongside the Commonwealth and the City of Bethlehem to make this resource a reality for our community.”
“The South Bethlehem Greenway has been a ribbon of connectivity in our community for 20 years,” said Rep. Steve Samuelson (D-135), who represents parts of Bethlehem and Hanover Township, Northampton County, in the state House of Representatives.
Samuelson credited Shapiro for delivering “critical funding to enable the Greenway and the Saucon Rail Trail to connect for 20 miles.”
State Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR) secretary Cindy Adams Dunn and Bethlehem mayor J. William Reynolds also spoke at the grant announcement ceremony.
The South Bethlehem Greenway’s current length–between S. New Street and Saucon Park–is approximately two miles, while the Saucon Rail Trail’s is about 7.5 miles long.
The rail trail extends from Hellertown south through Lower Saucon and Upper Saucon townships to Coopersburg borough, where it connects with the Upper Bucks Rail Trail, which opened in November 2020 and extends from Coopersburg south through Springfield Township to Veterans Park in Richland Township, near Quakertown.
For more information, visit SauconRailTrail.org.