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Happy Trails, Happier Community in West Beth, PA

26 Feb 2018 10:17 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

by Steve Dwyer

Transportation-oriented investments come in many shapes and sizes. The home run concepts might be found in a multi-use commercial/residential play that's positioned in close proximity to light rail or bus routes in an urban setting-or even include a modest but effective bicycle-sharing program to enable folks to get from point to point on a moment's notice. 

A basic trail system constitutes a Transit Oriented Development (TOD)  component. However, it doesn't get the props as being a real game-changer in the context of "compelling redevelopment" project. 

Of course, it depends on whom you ask. This passive TOD application can be equally as powerful to drive social-oriented impact and regenerate quality of life status. It's a simple yet effective outlet for residents to get out and walk, run or bike the trails. And, if a single, one-dimensional trail can be extended over time, it adds more power to point-to-point connectivity. 

We witnessed an example of passive TOD relating to a 150-acre brownfield in West Bethlehem Township, PA where a mile-long grass hiking trail was unveiled recently. For one, the new-use helped shed a reputation of blight, as the footprint once housed a mine refuse dump and sediment ponds. It had sat dormant for years. Now, it's perceived by the public and local stakeholders as an asset. And, it's acclaimed to be a textbook example of what happens when land remediation is executed properly.

Another example is Charles Town, WV, where the community embarked on an initiative to transform waterfront brownfields on the Evitts Run Creek into a new park, recreation and nature area with innovative green infrastructure helping buttress a distressed neighborhood. 

Key components of the "Evitts Run Creek Green Infrastructure Park" is marked by an on-line wet stormwater lake and park space dubbed "Lake Charles." This plan included: planting of hundreds of urban trees and shrubs, removal of six acres of long-abandoned parking lot at a long-defunct creekside factory area, deployment of pervious parking and trail facilities, and creation of a native nursery to support future green infrastructure efforts in the watershed. 

In West Beth, PA, land was reclaimed and repurposed in an area where coal mining was pervasive more than a quarter-century ago. The heavy lifting began in 2003 when West Bethlehem purchased the land from Bethlehem Steel Co. for $40,000, one year after the PA Department of Environmental Protection ordered the steel firm to spend $45 million to remediate six coal mines and clean up its waste pile and sediment ponds. A 12-inch-thick layer of topsoil was put down to seal the refuse area.

West Bethlehem's agreement with the steel company mandated land to be made available to the public. The township has done just that-removing undergrowth around the pond, making it more accessible to those who fish, and forging an agreement with the Pennsylvania Game Commission to allow hunters on a permission basis.

This transformation from brownfield to vibrant recreational space isn't complete, as there are more assets to be added to the existing footprint. The township also is formulating plans to plant donated trees and stock pheasants there, enhancing the property even more. The signature feature is the trail that offers impressive views and really has been a social impact, as well as a recreational/transportation boon. 

Similar to the positive reaction in West Virginia, the West Beth project appears to have additional possibilities for expansion. Passive recreational decision on a property might not pump revenue into local or state coffers like multi-use commercial and residential projects do. But they sure do pump hope and sense of civic pride into the citizenry.

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