POTTSTOWN—The Schuylkill River Heritage Area (SRHA) has received a two-year, $719,000 grant from the Philadelphia-based William Penn Foundation to improve the Schuylkill River Trail and strengthen the trail’s economic development potential.
The money will fund projects that enhance and expand the trail, and will also support a new SRHA Heritage Towns and Tours program, which will link communities and destinations to the trail.
The award is an extension of an earlier grant received by the SRHA in 2008, also in support of Schuylkill River Trail projects.
In addition to funding the Heritage Towns and Tours program—which includes creating a demonstration project in Pottstown and four other communities—it will also support a Trail Towns Conference focused on that program.
The grant will also help pay for a region-wide interpretive sign program and other trail-related signs along the Schuylkill River Trail. And it will support natural recreation and tourism programs in the Big Woods and Schuylkill Highlands Conservation Area.
Ultimately, the grant is expected to result in several different outcomes. For one thing, it will enable the SRHA to recognize various communities as Heritage Towns that form a network of destinations along the Schuylkill River and the trail. The SRHA will work with five communities as “demonstration projects” to develop and implement the Heritage Towns and Tours concept through signage, brochures and other resources. This program is intended to increase regional tourism and support local economic development initiatives, particularly for communities along the Schuylkill River Trail.
The grant will also fund signage and other trail projects that improve accessibility and awareness of the Schuylkill River Trail. And it will result in new programming and activities that promote recreation and the economic value of the Big Woods and Schuylkill Highlands Conservation Area.
“This grant will have a major impact on the residents and businesses throughout the Schuylkill River Region,” said SRHA Executive Director Kurt Zwikl. “It enables us to continue to improve and expand the Schuylkill River Trail, and to help communities along it benefit from the trail’s growing popularity.”
Included in the grant is a total of $120,000 to support projects in the Schuylkill Highlands Conservation Area, which has been identified as a Conservation Landscape Initiative by the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR).
The SRHA will partner with Natural Lands Trust and DCNR to fund eco-tourism and natural recreation projects and programs, which could include such items as maps, brochures, trail connectors, nature boardwalks and water trail landings. This will focus on communities in the middle Schuylkill River Region that are along the spine of the river and the trail.
The trail, when complete, will run the entire length of the river from Philadelphia to Pottsville, totaling about 130 miles and traversing through five counties. Several large sections are already in place, including a 26-mile piece that stretches from Philadelphia to Mont Clare, a 19-mile Pottstown-to-Reading segment, and seven miles through upper Berks and lower Schuylkill Counties.
The Schuylkill River Trail has been under construction for many years, but its various parts are owned and maintained by a number of public and private agencies. The grant will allow the Schuylkill River Heritage Area to continue to take the lead in coordinating those agencies.