On Centre: Penns Valley | Meeting to examine rail trail project

mcarroll@centredaily.comNovember 10, 2013 

Penns Valley residents will soon have another chance to sound off on a 27-mile rail trail project that could someday run through the area.

The latest in a series of public workshops and meetings on turning miles of abandoned railroad beds into trails is set for 7 p.m. Nov. 19 at the Old Gregg School in Spring Mills.

The public meeting is related to the feasibility study for the project.

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

Project manager Glenn Vernon, of study consultant Albertin Vernon Architecture, presented an update last week to the Centre Region Council of Governments Transportation and Land Use Committee.

Vernon said that his firm is dealing with legal, political, demand, design, financial and operational issues in discussing the likelihood of creating the trail, which, constructed in its entirety, would allow users to travel between Lemont and the county line, through Penns Valley.

The study schedule is about 18 months, and it was started in September 2012.

Vernon said the firm found 279 property owners of the rail beds that would make up the trail, much different from the connecting Buffalo Valley Rail Trail in Union County to the east.

“We tried to really reach out to the public to get a sense for where they are,” he said, adding that an initial public meeting drew at least 150 people. “I think the overall sense is that there was strong support for a rail trail in Penns Valley. The reality of that, though, is, because it reverted back, we’re not just dealing with the larger community, but with land owners.”

Concerns raised so far include liability of those land owners and the ability for trail heads to handle parking volumes.

Vernon said he heard mixed support from residents, with some key locations of interest, or not.

Residents outside of Centre Hall “just didn’t think it suited their lifestyle or culture,” Vernon said.

The same views came from people living on the other side of Spring Mills, many on agricultural land.

Residents of Ingleby, near Coburn and in the thick of Poe Paddy State Park, are particularly against the trail. Vernon said one resident who supported it sat in a meeting with 23 neighbors who didn’t.

“We also need to honor the fact that we heard a lot from that private land owner meeting that this just isn’t something they want in their neck of the woods,” Vernon said.

Vernon said that one of the most telling comments from naysayers was that someday, their children may support such a trail.

“Right now we’re taking a snapshot of what we see and reflecting it back to the community,” he said.

At the public meeting next week, Vernon said, his team will share some design concepts and initial cost estimates.

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

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