By Virginia Thompson and Tom Shaffer
Bike touring season is here, and we are blessed to live within easy reach of many dedicated bike trails. Here are some wonderful options for single-day rides, as well as a couple of destinations for weekend visits centered on biking.
Locally, the granddaddy of all the trails is the Schuylkill River Trail from Pottsville to Philadelphia’s Bartram’s Gardens. Eventually it will go to Fort Mifflin, connecting to the East Coast Greenway. Approximately 60 of the 105 total miles are complete and usable. Along the trail, you’ll witness industrial history and enjoy bucolic scenery. Trail towns such as Phoenixville, Pottstown, and Reading host restaurants, shopping, and some overnight accommodations.
The Schuylkill River Trail connects to the Perkiomen Trail — which goes from Oaks through Schwenksville and up to Upper Perkiomen County Park — and to the Cynwyd Heritage Trail, which starts at the Cynwyd train station and ties into the Manayunk Bridge over the Schuylkill River and Expressway. Along the way, read about the West Laurel Hill cemetery next to the trail and about the mills that dotted the land next to the river. The Manayunk bridge offers spectacular views of the Schuylkill River and connects to downtown Manayunk, where restaurants and shops beckon.
The York County Heritage Rail Trail, densely wooded in many stretches and open to valley vistas in others, starts in the City of York., Pa. (Check facebook.com/YCRTA for summer construction updates.) It connects to the Torrey C. Brown Trail that travels south 20 miles from the Pennsylvania border toward Baltimore. Hanover Junction station, now a museum on the York County Heritage Rail Trail, witnessed the passage of President Abraham Lincoln on his way to give his Gettysburg Address and again on his funeral train back to Springfield, Ill.
The Enola Low-Grade Line along the Susquehanna River in Lancaster County is a 5-mile-long beauty with gorgeous views of the river along the entire trail and of the Safe Harbor dam at its end. Ultimately, this trail will continue across a high viaduct east across Lancaster County almost to the border with Chester County. This line was built as a straight line, cutting across rather than following the contours of the land. Built in the late 19th century using construction methods of that time, it is difficult to imagine from our 21st century perspective all the challenges the construction workers faced.
The Buffalo Valley Trail from Mifflinburg to Lewisburg is a 9-mile rural trail with Amish farms and a buggy museum as attractions. The home of Bucknell University, Lewisburg is a charming downtown with interesting restaurants and specialty shops.
Two other areas in Pennsylvania within an easy drive are Eagles Mere and Ricketts Glen State Park, both in Sullivan County, about three hours north of Swarthmore. Eagles Mere was well known in its past for its summer theater as an escape for wealthy Philadelphians. Nowadays the community has specialty shops, several inns, houses to rent, and a very good history museum. Ricketts Glen State Park includes 22 named waterfalls, the highest of which is 94 feet high. The hiking trail is steep and arduous and can be slippery in wet weather, but it is well worth the visit and the climb. (Virginia, who grew up in nearby Bloomsburg, took both of these locations for granted, but has grown to appreciate them even more now that she does not live so close.)
Finally, if your 2016 biking season extends beyond summer, plan to ride the Chester Creek Trail when its first phase opens this fall, connecting Lenni Road to Chester Creek Road near Linvilla Orchards. This 2.8-mile section is being built by Delaware County following negotiations with SEPTA, landowners and townships.The trail promises a serene beginning and end of the day for rail commuters who can bike along it to and from the Wawa train station, which is scheduled to be reopened in 2020.