UNION DALE – Since its grass-roots founding in 1991, the Rail-Trail Council of NEPA has continually sought to “enhance the quality of life for the people who live, work, and visit the endless Mountains Region of North East PA, enabling thousands of bikers, hikers, runners and others to enjoy the area trails year-round,” said Lynn Conrad, Executive Director of the non-profit organization.

“To date, the Council has acquired 38 miles of the historic Delaware & Hudson railbed and has an easement to use 8 miles of the parallel Ontario & Western railbed as a recreational trail,” Conrad continued. “But to design, engineer, and regularly maintain things like trail drainage, grading, and surface improvements, as well as restore major structures like bridges, landscape the trail beds, and provide trail amenities like signage, picnic tables and benches, it takes ongoing financial support. Membership dollars, donations, and periodic voluntary hands-on help has been great through the years. But to now enable us to move forward with several additional trail improvement projects next summer, some major funding is required. That’s why we’ve just initiated the Council’s first Capital Campaign to seek $350,000 in matching funds needed to keep the Rail-Trail projects moving forward.”

Earlier this month, the Council sent a letter from its President, Kirk Newsom, and Nancy Ross, Development Chairperson, to detail the projects and officially kick-start its ‘Projects in Motion’ Capital Campaign. “We’re reaching out to all of our Rail-Trail members, trail users, and business leaders -- more than 1700 members and supporters – asking them to donate to this first-ever Capital Campaign,” Conrad said. “We’re asking everyone to make a contribution in any amount to help the Council reach its goal.”

Among some of the trail improvements identified is “the long anticipated 6.5-mile section from Herrick Center to Ararat,” Conrad noted. “This is currently out for bid through PennDOT and has supporting grants from the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources and the Department of Community and Economic Development.

“The Buck’s Falls D&H Rail-Trail Switchbacks in Starrucca is a somewhat complicated project that will build trail switchbacks in a beautiful ravine where a 480-ft. railroad bridge once existed,” continued Conrad. “The plan is to replace the eroded and rocky paths with a trail of less than a 5 percent grade, weaving back and forth among the old bridge piers. Another interesting project is our D&H Pusher Caboose. A new siding was previously installed in Union Dale where the caboose will undergo restoration and eventually stand for visitors.

“These are just a few of the several projects that the Council has in motion. And while most of the grants vary regarding how they’re matched -- some are 20 percent, others 50 percent – the bottom line is that we’re needing to reach $350,000 in matching funds.”

Deemed more than mere woodland trails amid some of Pennsylvania’s most scenic and historic areas, Conrad explained that the Council’s efforts to enhance the trails during the past 26 years have accomplished a great deal. “Every year thousands of people utilize these regional pathways for various personal and group activities that have in turn also provided sites for benefit runs, biking clinics, and educational events for all ages. Such uses have helped definitely increased recreational and heritage tourism throughout the region.

“The trails have also aided in stimulating economic development and increased property values by making communities more desirable,” she added. “They’ve facilitated in building community partnerships and re-established links between small towns that once thrived with railroad activities. And equally important, the Council’s efforts throughout the rail-trail areas have provided environmental benefits by protecting natural resources and habitats.”

Through various grants and donations, Conrad noted that partial funding is currently in place for many of the projects that, when completed, will extend the D&H Rail-Trail for approximately 20 continuous miles, running from just behind the BenMar Restaurant in Carbondale all the way to Ararat. “The extended trails will continue to attract more people to Susquehanna County, while enriching the lives of future generations of users,” she said.

The Rail-Trail Council of NEP is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization, which enables donation gifts to qualify as a charitable deduction for federal income tax purposes. Donations may be made by check payable to the Rail-Trail Council of NEP or by submitting an online donation via the PayPal link at the Council’s website, www.nepa-rail-trails.org. For additional information and/or to attend monthly meetings at areas restaurants, the public is invited to contact trails@nep.net or call 570-679-9300.