By Virginia Thompson
The new year got off to a great start for my husband and me with a morning walk on the newly completed Chester Creek Rail-Trail Phase 1, a 2.8-mile long paved walk paralleling the creek on the right-of-way of the former Chester Creek Branch line of the Pennsylvania Railroad. We were not alone, as the trail was quite busy and the parking lots full to overflowing.
Winding through bucolic scenery, past the Kings Mill banquet facility, abutting part of the trail around Linvilla Orchards, next to some active and former manufacturing firms, and above a wide pasture of dog statues (which remind birds not to land), the trail is a 20-year labor of love that has finally been realized.
Who knew that Aston and Middletown townships still had rural woodland in their midst? The Friends of the Chester Creek Branch did! This nonprofit organization founded by the late Mike Fusco, worked long and hard to get their vision implemented.
Phase 1 of the trail goes from Chester Creek Road to Lenni Road. Phase 2, for which engineering funding was recently secured, will go from Chester Creek Road to near Bridgewater Road. When complete, the trail will run from the former SEPTA Wawa train station to Upland.
Many organizations were involved in completing Phase 1: The two townships provided support for the trail concept and ultimately for the engineering and construction. Middletown Township approved the land development plan. SEPTA leased the railroad right-of-way to Delaware County, a task that proved long and challenging but will now serve as a model lease for other southeastern Pennsylvania rail-trails that require such an agreement. Delaware County Council also provided support, and PennDOT managed the engineering work.
Along with the diligence of the Friends organization, the capabilities of the Delaware County Planning Department were essential to the project’s completion. Its staff, including my husband Tom Shaffer, managed most of the project, working closely with the townships and SEPTA, helping with the feasibility study and engineering, and gathering funding for the engineering and construction of the trail. Maintenance will be provided by the county parks department and the Friends organization.
I know how strongly the Planning Department advocated for the trail, and I witnessed the tremendous joy and pride its staff took in the trail’s opening in December. An official ribbon-cutting will be held in the spring.
The disappointment among all the partners is that Mike Fusco, who died suddenly in 2014, never saw the completion of any part of the trail.
Check out the website for the trail at chestercreektrail.org. Better yet, go for a stroll or a ride on the trail and discover formerly unknown spaces in our midst. We also might discover that trails connecting neighborhoods can contribute to improved relationships with others, and better understanding among people of different opinions and circumstances.