Bellefonte to Milesburg trail would be ‘complex and expensive endeavor.’ What’s next?

After conducting research to determine the feasibility of constructing a two-and-a-half-mile bike trail from Bellefonte to Milesburg, the final report shows the project will encounter some obstacles; however, it is attainable.

Centre County commissioners voted Tuesday to accept the final report of the Bellefonte to Milesburg Trail Feasibility Study, following a presentation by Assistant Director of Planning and Community Development Mike Bloom.

Future development of the Bellefonte to Milesburg Trail is “technically feasible,” Bloom said. However, he added that it would be a “complex and expensive endeavor” in need of dedicated leadership and patience.

The study was made possible by a $70,500 grant from the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development and $15,300 of local match commitments.

Some of the challenges outlined in the report pertain to the trail’s location, land ownership, resources and permitting.

Bloom said the trail’s location has become a complexity of its own.

“With this study, we’re really threading the needle between Spring Creek and state Route 144,” Bloom said. “You have a pretty narrow window to take a proposal and put an alignment through there.”

The trail could be “the keystone” for a future trail that “threads” State College to Lock Haven, eventually connecting to the Pine Creek Rail Trail. But, its path would require the construction of five bridge structures and negotiations between seven property owners ⁠— a mix of state, local and private owners.

A section of the Bellefonte to Milesburg Trail Feasibility Study on Thursday, Dec. 6, 2018. Abby Drey

Bloom thinks property owners have concerns about what trail development would look like on their property but said cases will be handled individually in order to see all needs are addressed.

Because the trail would begin by Bellefonte’s waterfront, Bloom said the project team would face environmental and resource concerns. Additional permitting would also be required for the five stream crossing structures.

Despite the additional permits needed, Bloom sees them as an opportunity to highlight the county’s environmental features and resources.

After reflecting on the study’s findings, Bloom said the trail’s construction would enhance livability and quality of life all while promoting tourism in the Centre County area.

“Larger trails, like as envisioned long term here, really infuses spending into the local economies, and these become tourist destinations and help put heads in beds,” Bloom said. “Overall, there’s definitely stats that show these types of investments bear fruit over time.”

The total estimated construction cost is $6.1 million with an additional estimated annual maintenance cost of about $18,500. Bloom said the maintenance cost may change if volunteers are eager to help with upkeep of the trail.

Lead project consultant Pashek+MTR recommended municipalities collaborate and form a Trail Authority in order to alleviate the costs needed to create and maintain the trail. Chairman Michael Pipe said the county’s hotel tax could be a potential avenue to secure funding, something that did not exist when planning first began. Commissioner Mark Higgins, who also serves on the project’s steering committee, is optimistic about the project moving forward because of its impact on tourism.

With the acceptance of the report and suggestions for potential funding from consultants and the commissioners, the project’s steering committee will begin working on official plans to implement the trail’s construction.

Bloom said the future development of the Bellefonte to Milesburg Bike Trail would pay off in the long run, saying that although it is an expensive and complicated endeavor, it is also a “critical piece” needed to connect a much larger trail system.

“These things don’t happen overnight,” Bloom said. “(They) require patience and persistence. We’re going to hit stumbling blocks if this thing gets legs and continues to move forward.”