Rail Bed Becomes Trail Bed in Saucon Valley (Pennsylvania)

by on January 30th, 2015
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Thanks to state grants and contributions from four co-operating municipalities, an extinct Reading Railroad bed that once was part of a SEPTA commuter train route from Bethlehem, PA, to Norristown, PA, is now serving as a vehicle-free pedestrian-safe hiking and biking trail.

The 10-foot wide crushed cinders and pea-stone gravel bed meanders through partially wooded and open fields between the small quiet towns of Hellertown and Coopersburg. The first section, a 2-mile (Upper Saucon) stretch, opened with a ribbon-cutting ceremony on May 6, 2011. That has since been joined by two other 1.4 mile additions (one in Hellertown and the other in Lower Saucon), thus completing just about 70% of what will eventually be an 8-mile trail. A 2-mile stretch near Coopersburg still requires completion.

The Saucon Valley Rail-Trail originates at its northern end just off Main Street in Hellertown. The mid-section of the trail runs along and across portions of Saucon Valley Creek, a favorite little trout stream of local fishermen. There it also provides multiple scenic views of the nationally-recognized Saucon Valley CC, whose courses have hosted national golf championships such as the U.S. Seniors’ Open and LPGA Women’s U.S. Open. A bit further south it runs adjacent to the well-cared for grounds of DeSales University before winding back through some woods and finishing in the little hamlet of Coopersburg.

Coffee shops, restaurants, and watering-holes in both towns provide convenient rest points and refreshments for those in need.

Thus far, only bikers, walkers, and joggers are permitted on the trail; for maximum pedestrian safety, no motorized vehicles are allowed. The trail is supposed to be open year-round to accommodate winter activities like snow-shoeing or cross-country skiing. While it would make an excellent obstacle-free runway for snowmobiling, no plans are yet afoot for such motorized traffic, authorities fearing snowmobiles would prove dangerous for pedestrians.

Dogs and cats are allowed but no horses, and please bag all waste. Public restrooms are available at Hellertown’s Grist Mill and Water Park access points and Upper Saucon Community Park.

Barrier fencing has started appearing along sections of the trail as many private-property owners try to create some privacy for themselves along the trail, but for the most part, the Rail-Trail is wide open for viewing Mother Nature’s landscaping.

The trail is mostly flat with little elevation (mostly on the southern end) and is an easy walk or ride, although the gravel base is looser in some areas more than others, so resistance to wheeled items like bikes and strollers is variable. The 10-foot width handles dual-direction traffic without problems. Various road crossings are well marked and posted with warnings or gates for pedestrians and flashing lights or stop signs for automobiles.

There are no water fountains or benches (yet) along the way, so bring your own water bottles and police your trash. There are some open spaces here and there quite suitable for a little picnic on a blanket. Bring a camera and/or binoculars-there are plenty of birds, deer, and other wildlife that can be spotted along the trail. A walking stick might also be helpful, but for the most part, the Rail-Trail is quite even and stumble-proof. The trail is both canopied by trees as well as wide-open to the sun, so apply sunscreens.

When completed, the 8-mile trail and its 16-mile roundtrip will be great for power-walking and mini-marathon training as well as a nice-sized one hour tour on your mountain bike. There are some discussions underway to extend the trail even farther in both directions.

The Saucon Valley Rail-Trail is a nice example of cooperation between multiple municipalities, recycling an old railroad right-of-way for better use–the health of the community and wider enjoyment of the local environment.

©2011, FMK

Frank M. Krakowski, MD

Frank Thoughts™

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