Thursday, August 28, 2014

Pennypack Trail Reconnoiter

Traversing a trestle spanning Pennypack Creek at Bethayres Woods
Visitors to the Pennypack Preserve know that the suspended Fox Chase-Newtown railroad right-of-way bisects the preserve, roughly paralleling Pennypack Creek that also bisects the preserve.  The rail line was built in 1876 with the intention of linking Philadelphia to New York City.  But a second rail line (the West Trenton line), built two years earlier in 1874, also with the intention of linking Philadelphia to New York City, had the advantage of traversing flatter terrain and allowing for greater speeds.  As a result, the 1874 line (built by the Pennsylvania Railroad) quickly won out, and the line through the Pennypack Preserve (built by the Reading Railroad) was extended northward from Philadelphia only about 30 miles to Newtown in Bucks County and served local commuters.

The line was carrying passengers until 1984, when SEPTA suspended service because of low ridership.  When service stopped, SEPTA abandoned the right-of-way, which mostly became overgrown with vegetation.  Walkers kept a casual trail open along the right-of-way by wearing a path, but the edges of the rail line became a jungle.

Then, Montgomery County decided that it was going to turn the right-of-way into a trail.  They began by removing the rails and ties along the 2-mile section of the right-of-way that ran through Lorimer Park, a county park downstream.  Now, the county is extending the trail northward through the Pennypack Preserve.  The trail will be complete by next summer (2015).  We're concerned that mountain bicyclists and dog walkers will ignore the trail use limitations in the Pennypack Preserve.  On the other hand, the secluded rail corridor had been a site for vandalism, drinking and drug use, so the trial could have some positive impacts, too.

On Wednesday morning, August 27, a group of people from the county, two local municipalities, and the Pennypack Trust walked the length of the new trail route to point out areas where we anticipate there could be problems so that the county could plan accordingly.  Here are some images from our walk.
The trail route through Bethayres Woods
Estimating the width of the final trail
Purple loosestrife (Lythrum slicaria) and rose-mallow (Hibiscus moscheutos) along the trail
Approaching the Bryn Athyn post office/train station
Pennypack Creek just upstream from the post office
Crossing another trestle over Pennypack Creek (there are three trestles in the preserve).  House on the right is private.
Pennypack Creek viewed upstream from the trestle, above
A green tunnel
The historic stone-arch Creek Road bridge over the Pennypack, now part of our trail system.  This is the second-oldest bridge in Montgomery County (1840).