On Thursday morning, nearly four dozen people gathered at the former Barmouth Station in Bala Cynwyd to celebrate the official groundbreaking of the Cynwyd Heritage Trail. Work began on the trail weeks ago.
The 60 acre, 2.5 mile linear trail is expected to be completed in September, or October depending on weather, and will eventually cross the water and connect to the Ivy Ridge Trail, which feeds into the Schuylkill River Trail.
When the project is complete, the Lower Merion neighborhood of Bala Cynwyd, which borders City Avenue, will share a direct pedestrian path with Manayunk along the former railroad tracks.
The Manayunk bridge, however, is still in the design phase, and is not scheduled to open until after the official ribbon cutting of the Cynwyd Heritage Trail, which is scheduled for sometime in early Autumn. On Thursday, design contracts were awarded for that project.
Before the groundbreaking ceremony, Lower Merion public officials thanked dozens of organizations and individual volunteers who had donated “30,000 hours” to the cause, according to Christopher Leswing.
State Representative Pamela DeLissio, who represents this area as well as parts of Manayunk, Roxborough, and East Falls, came from Harrisburg to attend the groundbreaking.
She told the crowd that she’s “a big outdoor person” and that this park “provides people with the opportunity to remain fit close to home.”
She also expressed pride that the communities she represents approached the project following the “concept of regionalization and not working just within a government entity.”
She told the crowd that the representatives in Harrisburg were impressed with what they had dubbed a “P3 – public private partnership.”
Sponsors for the trail include government and citizen groups, businesses, and individual contributors and volunteers.
Scott Zelov, Chairman of the Parks and Recreations Committee told the crowd that this is the 44th park in Lower Merion, and joked that he suspects Leswing (“Mr. Trail himself”), who serves as the Township’s Assistant Director of Building and Planning, keeps a tent and sleeps somewhere along the trail.
Five years ago, Gerald Francis, the President of the Lower Merion Historical Society, and former President of the Board of Commissioners, Bruce Reed, came up with the vision for the trail, which at the time was 2.5 miles of derelict train tracks.
George Manos moved to the area in 1966 and is the Commissioner representing Bala Cynwyd and Belmont Hills. He noted how the trail went from train tracks, to “overgrown jungle” and soon to trail.
Leswing has been leading trips into the “jungle” for the past several years, clearing brush and making way for the heavy construction equipment that is now leveling the trail.
When complete, the path will have two lanes, one paved and one gravel.
Last January, on the Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service, hundreds of volunteers came from all over the area to clear plants and garbage in the snow and ice.
Todd Young, 45, from Manayunk pointed out that the pedestrian path will make it safer for Lower Merion residents to drink on Main Street and not have to drive home.
The group of St. Joe’s students in attendance agreed that this trail would make it easier and safer for them to go out in Manayunk.
Trish Gdowik, 38, from Roxborough, vowed to bike to work on City Avenue once the trail is complete.
After the shovels had hit the ground, the crowd made its way from the Barmouth Station, which is just outside West Laurel Hill Cemetery, to the Cynwyd Station on Bala Avenue.
The Cynwyd station, which is still in use for trains, will serve as the future trailhead containing information, historical artifacts, bathrooms, and a bicycle rental kiosk.
The Station was built in 1890, and has recently been revitalized and opened for history enthusiasts to tour. Most of the building materials are original, and what couldn’t be preserved was replaced using scavenged materials from other historical buildings in Pennsylvania, according to Gerald Francis, President of the Historical Society.
Francis believes that many who live near the Schuylkill river have completely forgotten about it due to the neighboring I-76 highway. He added that this trail will allow future generations to “rediscover the hidden river.”
Ideally, when the trail and bridge are both completed next fall, neighbors in Philadelphia and its suburbs will have a chance to rediscover their shared history, while getting some fresh air.