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Editorial: Schuylkill Trail

Stitching a path together

What about the Philadelphia region's


river? That question will be on the minds of more than 200 people who signed up for tonight's town-hall forum on completing the Schuylkill River Trail.

It's the right question, and there's a good answer within reach - providing that the region's elected representatives in Congress, City Hall, and county seats are willing to rally behind the effort together.

While recent riverfront headlines have been about the city's embarking on an expansive vision for developing along the Delaware River, the banks of the Schuylkill hold their own unique promise.

The river trail running through portions of the city and Montgomery and Delaware Counties already serves as a wildly popular recreational asset, most visibly along Kelly Drive. Were it to be finished through the region and even extended in places, it could serve as an even greater catalyst for economic development and neighborhood preservation.

Toward that end, an impressive coalition of 11 groups, including community developers, conservationists, local government officials, bicycle advocates, and cultural officials, has convened the 6 p.m. forum at the Academy of Natural Sciences. Their aim is to push getting busy with nine projects needed to finish the Schuylkill trail.

With an eye toward government funding that targets nonpolluting projects, the coalition says the trail could be "the region's first green transportation corridor" or "nonmotorized thru-way" for commuters. Indeed, cyclists already use the trail on any given day to get to and from jobs and other destinations.

The problem is the gaps, such as the link with Manayunk near Ridge Avenue and Kelly Drive - the so-called Wissahickon Gateway. The trail also needs to be extended southward to Bartram's Garden and Cobbs Creek Park, and to Lower Merion Township's planned Cynwyd Trail along an inactive rail line.

At the forum, the coalition hopes to make a compelling pitch that elected officials must work in concert to make the trail projects a priority. In particular, that's a challenge that should be taken up by Mayor Nutter; U.S. Reps. Bob Brady (D., Pa.), Chaka Fattah (D., Pa.), and Jim Gerlach (R., Pa.); and U.S. Sens. Arlen Specter (R., Pa.) and Bob Casey (D., Pa.).

While funding for much of the work should come from federal transportation appropriations via PennDot, these projects also would fit the bill as economic stimulus spending. In addition, spade work such as feasibility studies could be done by the state's Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, with backing from DCNR chief Michael DiBerardinis.

Having devoted millions in public and private funding to develop the Schuylkill trail network this far, it's even more important to invest what's needed to connect the dots.