On Centre: Penns Valley | Talks to focus on next steps for abandoned railroad beds

mcarroll@centredaily.comMarch 4, 2013 

A series of public workshops will kick off next week to discuss developing miles of trail on abandoned railroad beds in Penns and Brush valleys.

Gregg Township supervisors, with the help of Centre County planners and others, have been studying the feasibility of gaining access to the rail beds along 27 miles to create a public trail.

To do so, officials need the support of property owners on whose land the beds lie.

The township, which is leading the project, said the public meeting scheduled for March 12 will allow for community discussion on preliminary results of a feasibility study.

Officials said they have signed easements along the corridor with several property owners, which relieved the owners of the liability for those lands.

Others, however, have been reluctant.

“It’s really going to be up to the current property owners, not us, to decide whether and where the rail trail happens in Centre County,” Gregg Township Supervisor Doug Bierly said in the release.

Bierly said it’s the township’s role to facilitate that discussion and to act as moderators.

“We already know that some landowners are supportive of the idea on their land, and others are not — and we respect both points of view,” he said. “Our approach is to help those property owners who see value in creating this trail on their land and to look for alternate routes around property owners who don’t.”

With grant money in hand, the township conducted a feasibility study of the project. The consultants presented their preliminary findings in February, officials said.

“We want the community to view the study as a chance to have open discussion about a possible opportunity, not as a threat,” said Pat Leary, chairman of the township Board of Supervisors.

Leary said the township has no intention of using eminent domain to acquire rights of way.

“If we can eliminate any adjoining property owners’ burden of liability by improving their easement as a trail, it could be a win-win for the entire community,” he said in the release. “That’s the kind of discussion we hope to have at our first public meeting.”

The abandoned railroad bed was originally chartered in 1853 as the Lewisburg, Centre and Spruce Creek Railroad, officials said.

Glenn Vernon, project manager for the consulting team, called the railroad a “significant piece of Penns and Brush Valley’s heritage.”

“The rural landscape helped shape the railroad, and then the railroad helped shape and preserve the community’s rural character for the next 100 years,” Vernon said. “I think what the study committee is really asking the community to consider now is, could some portion of this heritage be put to use again in a way that helps shape and preserve the community’s rural character for another 100 years?”

The public meeting is scheduled for 7 p.m. March 12, at the Old Gregg School in Spring Mills.

Matt Carroll writes about news from the Penns and Brush Valley regions. He can be reached at 231-4631 or mcarroll@centre daily.com.

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