My last two-day training ride before the Week-a-Year was 70 miles along part of the Delaware and Lehigh Trail in northeastern Pennsylvania. And all four of us on this trip kept looking at each other and saying this is beautiful and why didn’t we know about it?
Here’s some of what it has: miles of thick tree canopy that offers shade on hot summer days and that no doubt will turn brilliant colors at peak leaf time, a gorge, the river, complete with rapids, remnants of the railroad line, down to an old signal, a nature center built on an old superfund site and generous trailheads with shelters and sometimes even toilets.
There are lots of mileage markers, including some that tell you how far to the next stops. There are even shuttle services from Jim Thorpe to White Haven, 25 miles to the north, so you only have to pedal downhill (and trust me, there’s a noticeable difference.)
The trail itself is hardpacked crushed stone, wide and well-used, and it was fantastic to see such a wide range of clearly casual riders on it. It’s more proof, if anyone needs it, that people love trails and not having to mix with traffic. Build a trail of a decent distance, and people will flock to it. That’s one reason the East Coast Greenway is such a powerful vision.
So why isn’t this 165-mile-long trail (longer than the Great Allegheny Passage!) better known among bike tourists, especially the sort who like multi-day trips?
One reason is there’s still a big gap just south of Jim Thorpe (a pretty but overpriced tourist town). Right now you’d have to bike up a big climb with no shoulder to reach Lehighton and the next section of the trail. That is, as one person put it to us, unless you know which “no trespassing” signs you can ignore between Weissport (on the other side of the river) and Jim Thorpe.
But once the pedestrian bridge goes in and that gap is gone, it’ll be mostly clear biking down to Bristol, south of Trenton, and then the East Coast Greenway can take over for the route to Philadelphia and points south. The bridge, we heard, is supposed to go in next year. (The D&L website says it’s in the final design stage, and this article from July says the bridge should be done in 2017.) As far as bridges go, it seems pretty cheap to me at $3.1 million.
Other sections have temporary obstacles, according to the D&L site, though we met people who bike up from Allentown, so they clearly know the way around those in their city. (Hey, what about temporary routes and signage?)
I admit I knew there was a trail on the Pennsylvania side of the Delaware River around New Hope, but last I had heard, it had been washed out by bad floods (and that was before Hurricanes Irene and Sandy). But that seems to be history, and I plan on exploring that end of the trail in 2016. By then, the work on a culvert that has blocked off the trail around Upper Black Eddy should be done, and I can go up to Easton and even Allentown.
And that brings me to the Delaware & Lehigh National Heritage Corridor’s website.
It’s flashy. And it’s great to have information about the different segments and any problems along the trail. But why oh why is there no easy-to-read mileage chart like the one in the seemingly out-of-print brochure I swiped from our B&B? Instead you have to click on each segment, note the mileage and then tally it up. Silly.
Then there’s the perennial question of signage. No signs are there (that we saw) to help us out-of-towners find trailheads. There are a few spots where directional arrows along the trail are needed (that little bit of road around Bowmanstown, for one). And those red mileage signs don’t offer any information about amenities in upcoming towns. Easy to add the symbols. Trailheads also seem to have little of that information. Why not copy the GAP’s Trail Towns program?
To be fair, the trail isn’t finished. Plans call for it to go all the way to Wilkes-Barre to the north, and the stretch where it will overlap with the East Coast Greenway between Trenton and Philadelphia is a work in progress (literally — Philadelphia has 10 trail projects in development that support the ECG, and two of Pennsylvania’s top 10 trail gaps are on the ECG and high on the state’s to-do list). I just hope it won’t take until it’s finished for more businesses to spring up to serve trail riders. More shuttle services to serve those doing multi-day trips, perhaps? Both the GAP and Missouri’s Katy Trail should be inspirations.
There are easy fixes for my complaints. This is a wonderful trail.
More pictures from the weekend: