A bill that would require Pennsylvania towns along the Appalachian Trail to enact zoning to protect land abutting the historic footpath received final legislative approval this afternoon and is headed to Gov. Rendell for his endorsement.
Rendell spokesman Chuck Ardo said the governor will sign House Bill 1281 "if there are no surprises in the legislation," which Rendell has supported.
The House, which overwhelmingly passed the bill in December, had to act on it again today because of some changes the Senate made to it last month. The revised version was approved by a House vote of 190-12.
The law would go into effect 60 days after it is signed by Rendell. Townships would then have a year to implement zoning on as much land as they see fit to "establish, protect and maintain" the trail.
"With this legislation, we can guarantee the trail will be protected in all its scenic beauty," said Rep. Robert Freeman (D., Northampton), the bill's chief sponsor.
Freeman had set out to strengthen the Pennsylvania Appalachian Trail Act of 1978, which had urged - but not required - towns to pass ordinances to preserve land along the state's 229 miles of trail.
Of the 55 Pennsylvania communities crossed by the trail, nine are believed to be without zoning. Under one of the Senate changes to the bill, one township would be exempt from the zoning requirement: Cooke, population 117, in Cumberland County. Its portion of the trail is bordered by state-owned forest and parkland and a private game preserve.
Freeman's bill was prompted by environmental activists outraged by development plans for a 4.2-mile road course for high-performance cars less than a half-mile from where the trail runs atop the scenic Blue Mountain range in Monroe County, north of Allentown. When that project was proposed in 2002, Eldred Township had no zoning. It does now, but its ordinance came too late to stop the rally course, expected to open in summer 2009.
The 2,175-mile Appalachian Trail runs through 14 states, from Georgia to Maine, and draws nearly 4 million hikers each year. New Jersey has 72 miles of the footpath, mostly on state or federally protected lands.