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Times Herald: Montgomery County gives nod to trail access, diversity, awareness plan

by Rachel Ravina

October 5, 2020

A study aiming to revamp several area trail points has cleared its final hurdle with county leaders' stamp of approval at a recent Montgomery County Commissioners meeting.

The Montgomery County Trail Access, Diversity and Awareness Plan was funded by an $87,000 grant through the Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission’s Transportation and Community Development Initiative, according to Bill Hartman, the Montgomery County Planning Commission’s section chief for trails and open space.

“The trail access diversity and awareness plan was initiated by the planning commission to better understand and identify solutions to barriers that prevent the equitable use of the county’s trail system,” Hartman said.

Donna Fabry, senior open space planner for the Montgomery County Planning Commission, said the study focused on portions of the Schuylkill River Trail in Norristown and Pottstown, as well as the Pennypack Trail, spanning from Abington Township to Bryn Athyn.

Fabry gave some context during her presentation by adding that the Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission obtained the information from 2013-2017 from the U.S. Census American Community Survey and examined several categories including age, gender and racial and ethnic minorities.

Fabry said in her presentation that her staff conducted “interviews with stakeholders” across different areas in order to get a better understanding of community needs.

She presented her findings on separate occasions to respective locally elected officials.

"We wanted to develop recommendations that would be practical and effective in the long run,” Fabry said.

In Norristown, interviewees identified several possible issues associated with the trails including the “perception of safety” and general “unfamiliarity with the trail” in terms of locations, hours of availability and connections. Fabry added that respondents were also concerned with “children having access to bicycles [and] safe places” to store them.

In Pottstown, Riverfront Park and Industrial Highway were two main points of interest.

Fabry stressed the importance of “including [the] community in [the] decision-making process,” while looking to implement the following ideas:

  • improve marketing of trail through print, digital and multilingual versions,

  • educate people on how to use the trail and overall health benefits by working with schools and youth organizations,

  • improve signage and connectivity with improvements to the corridor, gateway and trailheads,

  • increase programming and improve accessibility of existing programming with walking and biking tours, outdoor activities and public art projects, and

  • add mile markers and wayfinding signage to access points.

“We found that it is essential to create partnerships with public and private organizations because we want to engage with these organizations that have a direct link to the community and that can also help promote our events that we have and have the community more involved,” Fabry said.

Fabry also said she’d like to see increased programming and improved accessibility through tours, races, bike programs, and planned walks. In order to get more people outside, Fabry emphasized the need to “improve marketing of [the] trail through promotions, “designating a community liaison, making local maps, and streamlining the permit process.

Montgomery County Commissioners’ Vice Chairman Ken Lawrence Jr. said he has personal interest in the project as a trail user. He praised Fabry’s efforts

“This is an area of the trail that I’m very familiar with, biking on and particularly the transportation center so I’m excited to see the results of the work that comes through with this because there definitely could be improvements there,” Lawrence said.

Montgomery County Commissioners’ Chairwoman Valerie Arkoosh agreed, adding the diversity and awareness study allows area residents to have a direct impact on the changes being made.

“It’s really gratifying to see the level of community engagement that you were able to accomplish with this outreach and the very important feedback that we received from the community,” Arkoosh said.

“I mean at the end of the day that’s who we serve and it’s just so important that we all pause in our work regularly and specifically and directly engage in the community and ask if we’re getting it right and if we’re not getting it right how can we do it better,” she continued. “So I really appreciate this work and I look forward to the next steps.”

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