City and state officials cut ribbon for new Shawmont Trail

Connecting city to suburb with safety in mind, officials from city, state, and federal government were present at a ribbon-cutting on Thursday morning for the recently-completed Shawmont Trail.

The trail, a $1.4 million project led by Philadelphia Parks and Recreation in cooperation with the Streets Department, links Philadelphia and Montgomery County via a one-mile natural trail, used heavily for purposes of both commuting and recreation.

Located primarily along Nixon Street in Shawmont, new features of the two year project include a 13-foot high retaining wall, fencing to protect private property, and new native species planting. Additional trees and shrubbery will soon make their way to the site to reduce storm water runoff.

A new segment of the trail, from Shawmont Ave. to Port Royal Ave. allows trail users an alternative to sharing the road with motorists. In addition, a section of the trail from Port Royal Ave. to Montgomery County was widened four feet to comply with PPR trail safety standards.

“Enormous efforts at the local, the county, the state and federal levels have been made to connect these sections of the Schuylkill River Trail, close gaps in the trail, and to identify and promote the trail as a single trail and regional asset across these counties,” said Mayor Michael Nutter. “The City of Philadelphia is committed to making the great outdoors and healthy recreation a priority in our transportation strategy.”

One piece of the city’s growing trail system 

The Shawmont Trail project, one of seven projects awarded to Philadelphia in 2010 totaling $17.2 million, was funded by the Federal Highways Administration, with construction funding coming from the federal government’s TIGER grant, or Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery.

Congressman Chaka Fattah, a senior member of the House Appropriations Committee, was present on Thursday morning, propping the grey Trek hybrid bicycle that he rode to the ribbon-cutting on a nearby wall.

Dressed in a sweatshirt and warm-up pants, Fattah told the crowd that “this is not just about a bike path today.””It’s a part of a higher effort that the federal government can be a partner in this city as it moves forward, trying to address the challenges in our neighborhoods,” he said.

State Representative Pam DeLissio, speaking about the larger trail system, said that the Manayunk Bridge project is “pocket change” away, with only $250,000 needed in funding to complete the bridge’s trail, which will cross the Schuylkill River and connect with the existing Cynwyd Heritage trail in Lower Merion.

Fourth District Councilman Curtis Jones, Jr. recalled walking the neighborhood several years ago to investigate the possibility of the trail.

“We walked door to door talking to people about what they wanted to see,” he said, learning in the process that neighborhood residents were uneasy about the impact of the trail’s design. “It changed, it changed again, and it changed until we got it right, to what we have today.”

Moving bike traffic from the street to a public trail 

Despite concerns early in the project, residents present at the ceremony expressed enthusiasm for the resultant enhancements to the trail and to their community.

Dave Cellini, president of the Residents of the Shawmont Valley Association, said that the new features will accommodate the bike traffic that utilizes River Road.

“It takes the bike traffic off the street and puts it on a public trail,” he said. “There was a little bit of apprehension about the project initially, but people feel good about it.”

Resident Jenny Taylor said the now-completed trail has made a “big difference” in her neighborhood.

“It took a while to get used to it, but they did everything we asked for,” she said, recalling answered requests for fencing and no-parking signs. A road-widening proposal was also opposed by residents.

Mimi Volper noted that project overseers successfully addressed water issues in the neighborhood, due in part to the tall retaining wall and newly-installed drains.

“I’m glad that Fairmount Park took it over,” she said, “because there’s a responsibility for it now.”

While there are some issues remaining due to vandalism and partying in nearby woods, along with bicycle and vehicle traffic – neighbor Elaine Selan said she’s awaiting an unfortunate “convergence” of the two at an oft-ignored stop sign – residents appear to be generally pleased with the resultant trail.

“It gives it a park feel,” observed Taylor. “I feel like I’m in Valley Forge.”

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