The William Penn Foundation has announced $5.9 million in grants designed to help extend the Circuit Trails, a web of hundreds of miles of multiuse trails in the Philadelphia region that stretches across nine local counties.
The announcement Thursday was timed in advance of National Trails Day, which is Saturday.
About 800 miles are planned for the Circuit Trails network, of which about 370 miles are complete. The trails run through Philadelphia, Bucks, Chester, Delaware, and Montgomery Counties in Pennsylvania and Burlington, Camden, Gloucester, and Mercer Counties in New Jersey. The goal is to provide unbroken paths through the counties.
“The idea is that one day you can step on a trail that’s part of the circuit and go in any direction all day long, and be on a safe, bicycle-pedestrian trail for a good 20, 30, or 40 miles in any direction,” said Sarah Clark Stuart, chair of the Circuit Trails Coalition and executive director of the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia. “The circuit would connect so many communities and give people the ability to enjoy the outdoors.”
Clark said people are unaware of how much work goes into building just one mile of trail. She said there are “significant costs” in planning, land acquisition, construction, management, and administration.
“We are so grateful for the incredible support of the Circuit Trails from the William Penn Foundation,” Clark said separately in a statement. “This funding will be critical in helping the Circuit Trails Coalition achieve our goal of completing 500 miles of trails by 2025 and to continue to emphasize the trails as places that are inclusive and welcoming for all.”
The bicycle coalition is one of 13 groups receiving money. The coalition will receive $600,000, making it one of the single largest of the grants.
The largest, $1.6 million, went to the Pennsylvania Environmental Council to expand the trails network in under-resourced communities and to develop a digital tool to identify priority trails.
Clark said the money awarded to the bicycle coalition will go toward salaries of staff conducting outreach and other tasks, but not to actual construction.
“It’s to support staff for various advocacy efforts to promote building out the Circuit Trail network and work toward increasing diversity of usage of the trail and accessibility,” she said.
An example of one of the many trails included in the Circuit Trails network runs through Chester City, which recently was awarded a separate grant to rebuild Highland Avenue with a path for residents to access the river. Plans also call for renovation of Norris Street, which involves building 0.67 miles of trail and facilities to provide a link to the Circuit Trails, and will become part of the much larger East Coast Greenway, which is being patched together to connect 450 towns for 3,000 miles from Maine to Florida.
Officials said the Chester City trail additions would give residents another link to a waterfront that long had been blocked by industry and connect it to something greater.
“The East Coast Greenway work is part of our larger ongoing effort to transform the Chester waterfront by maximizing safety, access, and connectivity for Chester residents,” said Lisa Gaffney, executive director of Riverfront Alliance of Delaware County.
The William Penn grants, spread over two years, include:
$325,000 to Appalachian Mountain Club to increase access to the Delaware River watershed’s trails and outreach to communities in the eastern part of Pennsylvania, while connecting with paddlers and other outdoor enthusiasts.
$300,000 to Brandywine Conservancy to advance land and water trails along Brandywine Creek Greenway through partnerships with municipalities and other groups.
$250,000 to Delaware and Lehigh National Heritage Corridor Inc. to support “safe and inclusive” use of the Delaware and Lehigh Trail and its adjacent rivers, as well as developing programs and trail amenities geared to diverse communities.
$125,000 to East Coast Greenway Alliance Inc. to advance the East Coast Greenway in Northern Delaware and South Jersey by advocating for completion of various trail segments, as well as hosting programs and events.
$300,000 to Heritage Conservancy to connect people with the Delaware River watershed and Circuit Trails through “experiential” programs, while advancing the East Coast Greenway in Bristol Township.
$332,000 to the New Jersey Conservation Foundation to increase safe and equal access to trails, parks, and waterways in Camden.
$880,000 (through two grants) to the Rails to Trails Conservancy to develop a “strategic and inclusive communications campaign, with a focus on people that have been underrepresented on the trails,” and to coordinate trail projects in South Jersey and Philadelphia.
$335,000 to Riverfront North Partnership to support equitable access and recreation on the Delaware River and North Delaware River Greenway in Philadelphia through planning, design, and construction, while expanding community engagement.
$495,000 to Schuylkill River Greenway Association to close “critical gaps” in the Schuylkill River Trail and provide better access to it, while establishing educational programs with under-resourced communities.
$335,000 to Tri-State Transportation Campaign to lead the Circuit coalition’s work in New Jersey and expand the network, advance state policies, and develop community connections to the trails.