Though the welt on cyclist Brenda Miller's right cheek has healed since she was attacked two weeks ago, her confidence in the Norristown stretch of the Schuylkill River Trail will take longer to mend.
"It will be a long time before I feel OK riding by there," she said.
Miller, 49, was riding the path alone at 7:30 p.m. June 3 when five to seven red-shirted youths, estimated to be 16 to 18 years old, spread across the path as she approached.
When she picked up speed to try to ride through them, one stepped into the trail and punched her. She rode to the Norristown Transportation Center and called police. The next day, she was treated for whiplash and a minor concussion.
About 50 cyclists met June 10 with officials from the Montgomery County Sheriff's Office, the county commissioners' office, and the Norristown Police Department to discuss the trail's safety. Steve Scheetz, chairman of the Montgomery County Bicycle Committee, a division of the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia, had requested the meeting.
More than 20 crimes have been reported on the Norristown stretch of the trail in the last two years, according to police records. On June 1, a Plymouth Meeting man reported that two juveniles in the same area threw a rock that hit him in the face.
Among other reports on that stretch since June 2007, there have been four assaults, nine incidents of disorderly conduct and one of vandalism, and three robberies, including the theft of two bicycles from a Norristown man in September.
"We need you folks to be vigilant," County Sheriff John Durante told the cyclists, urging them to report all trail incidents. "We don't know if it's a trouble spot, or a potential trouble spot, if nobody tells us."
Scheetz offered donated cameras from cyclist Ray Jackson to help monitor trail activity, which Police Lt. Kevin McKeon said his department would consider using. Cyclists also have created a Web site on which riders can report trail incidents not serious enough to be reported to the police.
The section, which is regularly used by residents, spans about 30 miles from Locust Street in Philadelphia to Phoenixville. The Norristown incidents have occurred on an eighth-of-a-mile stretch where the trail meets Haws Avenue.
Miller is a member of Sturdy Girls Cycling, an organization of women cyclists in the Philadelphia area. She rode that area of the trail at least once a week, often alone.
Before her attack, she never had a problem, she said. Now she is looking for street routes to bypass Norristown.
"I don't think they were trying to steal my bike," she said. "I think they were out to commit violence."
Miller said she hoped police took her attack seriously. "If there was someone standing on the Schuylkill Expressway firing at cars, the police would be there every day," she said.
Norristown Police Chief Russell Bono said his department was working to identify and arrest those responsible, and was conducting undercover surveillance on the trail. Police said they believe the youths might be linked to a basketball league because of their similar clothing.
"We are putting together strategies to make the trail safer in that particular area," Bono said.
Trail steward Kara Wilson said she was not surprised.
"There have always been some problems in the area," she said. "It's very difficult to police miles and miles of trail."
Scheetz agreed that the area is difficult to patrol, but said he wished more could be done. Last spring, several area bicycling groups joined with the Montgomery County Department of Parks and Heritage Services to clear brush from the trail.
"It really is sad that someone can't ride his or her bike without being harassed," Scheetz said.