Clinton County Rail Trail: Some Pieces Near Completion, Much Work Remains

This is the defunct train bridge off Spook Hollow Road that spans the West Branch Susquehanna River.
This is the defunct train bridge off Spook Hollow Road that spans the West Branch Susquehanna River. (See gallery of images at end of story.)

By LaKeshia Knarr

CASTANEA TOWNSHIP – Clinton County commissioners recently received a tour of the planned Clinton County Rail Trail, which will take folks along Bald Eagle Creek and the West Branch Susquehanna River, and learned there is still much to do to make plans a reality.

The goal is to one day connect the planned 11.5 miles of trail in Clinton County to the Pine Creek Rail Trail, which has a southern trailhead in Jersey Shore and boasts 62 miles of trail running through parts of Lycoming and Tioga counties in the Pine Creek Gorge. The concept was first introduced in 2010 in the county’s Greenways and Open Spaces Plan and has been an ongoing project since, coordinated by the Planning Department. Five phases of work have been identified.

The commissioners see the Rail Trail project as important for the county as it makes use of idle property while simultaneously providing opportunities for exercise and fresh air to the residents. In addition, the plan creates tourism prospects and additional exposure for already-developed recreational amenities along the route. There is the potential for businesses to develop along the route to support the needs of users, thus stimulating the local economy further.

So far, investments in the project total $42,000 by Wayne Township and $82,700 by the county.  A majority of the funds from the county are Act 13 recreation funds.

Phase I – the creation of the Spook Hollow section (2.1 miles) in Wayne Township – has been completed. Phase II – from the Castanea Train Station to the Wayne Township Community Park (4.5 miles) – is underway this year, and the county hopes to complete it before 2018. Community Planner Greg Smith showed commissioners Pete Smeltz and Paul Conklin the fruition of his efforts so far and spoke of future plans and obstacles.

According to Smith, work remains in the Phase II section of the trail.  Hundreds of pot holes need filled and the top stone needs to be laid and graded. Smith said he also intends to construct more split-fencing to provide safety measures along parts of the path that pass ledges, mountainside runoff or protected areas. In addition, Smith plans to install benches along this portion of the path so users will have rest areas along what is expected to be a hot trail. For much of the distance, the trail follows PPL lines, which prohibits the county or townships from planting trees or other coverage for shade.  Currently gated off to prevent illegal waste dumping and vandalism, county officials worked with private landowners to allow access to portions of their property that extend beyond the trail.

The piece that is envisioned for Wayne Township and beyond will be a bit trickier for a number of reasons, Smith noted.

 

PLANNED ROUTE

The current layout for the trail will begin adjacent to the Castanea Railroad Station, which is owned by the Clinton County Historical Society, houses the Clinton Central Model Railroad Club, and is located at 15 Logan Ave., Castanea Township.

Once past the Stabley Road intersection in Wayne Township, the trail – instead of continuing to follow the rail bed, a portion of which is owned by Wayne Township Landfill – would detour alongside the back end of the Wayne Township Visitors Center, park and fire company, before connecting to McKinney Road and Spook Hollow Road, already being used as a biking/walking path.  This represents Phase III of the project.

The trail would then take users to a large, defunct train bridge that crosses the West Branch Susquehanna River. This would be the gateway to connecting the Pine Creek and Clinton County Rail Trails. The county would also like to create a connection directly into the Borough of Avis.  Phase IV of the project also includes adapting the old train bridge for safe bicycle and pedestrian use. Phase V will take the trail from the bridge to the Lycoming County line (3.5 miles) and Avis (4.9 miles).

Restrooms will be available at the Castanea Train Station and the Wayne Township Park, and are part of Phase II of the overall project. Parking areas will be located at both locations, as well as at both ends of the Spook Hollow section of the trail.

The Clinton County portion of the trail would end at the old steel bridge crossing Pine Creek on River Road, where it enters Lycoming County and its officials will take charge of connecting the trails.

One day, Smeltz said, the goal is for the trail to begin at Chestnut Park, also located in Castanea Township, adjacent to Bald Eagle Creek, off Creek Road– providing easy access to Lock Haven.

 

OBSTACLES

From negotiating with private landowners, working with state agencies, finding funding and making the overall logistics of the trail connections a reality, there are many hurdles on the horizon to make this rail trail useable.

Much of the work so far has been handled independently by the county, with assistance from the involved townships, who have so far agreed to mow and help maintain their sections of the trail.

Smeltz noted the project has thus far been put together in more of a “piecemeal” fashion and said that has made it a little more difficult to find public funding. Getting an architectural plan or survey upfront is required for many funding sources and can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars without a guarantee that funding will become available later, he said.

Once the trail crosses Youngdale Road and into Wayne Township, it runs behind more private properties and will require careful maneuvering as it makes its way back towards Brookside Road. The county will there have two options: negotiate with private landowners to allow the trail to fluidly continue onto a small, unused train bridge or work with the PennDOT to allow the trail to run alongside Youngdale Road for less than a mile before returning to the railroad bed.

County officials aren’t yet sure what the price tag is to acquire the large train bridge in Wayne Township from the Solid Waste Authority and restore it to a useable condition… or how they will get riders up the 42 feet in elevation needed to get from the trail to the bridge. Estimations for bridge decking and handrails for the full length are in the ballpark of $320,000.

In addition, the county has yet to truly begin discussions with Pine Creek Township, which would also need to be involved in the masterplan – as the township sits between Wayne Township and Jersey Shore.

 

FUTURE PLANS

Going forward, the plan is to form a Clinton County Recreation Advisory Board to oversee various recreation activities within the county and create a Rail Trail subcommittee. As the plan is implemented, the county intends to look into state grants.

The county hopes to complete Phase III by the end of summer 2018, making the trail accessible from Castanea Township to the railroad bridge in Wayne Township. From there, the plan is to embark on future phases as funding permits.

Based on its research, the county estimates the average cost per mile for trail maintenance ranges for $500 to $1,000 annually, totaling $5,750 to $11,500 per year for the full trail, once completed.

Directional and distance signage, as well as location signs, will also be a factor in planning. Those signs are estimated at up to $500 each. Other ideas for the future include a viewing deck on the bridge in Phase IV, and a potential canoe launch near the bridge in McElhattan.

 

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