Fitness

Schuylkill River Trail leads in national contest for ‘best urban trail’

The Conshy Running Club runs the Schuylkill River Trail on Thursday evening. Thursday, June 25, 2015. Adrianna Hoff—The Times Herald.

The Conshy Running Club runs the Schuylkill River Trail on Thursday evening. Thursday, June 25, 2015. Adrianna Hoff—The Times Herald.

By Carl Rotenberg, crotenberg@21st-centurymedia.com, @CarlWriter on Twitter

CONSHOHOCKEN >> In a Reader’s Choice contest between 20 trail systems nationwide the Schuylkill River Trail is currently leading the contest for the top choice among USA Today readers.

Local runners and bicyclists can vote for their favorite urban trail once per day until polls close on Monday, July 20 at noon ET. Winners will be announced on Friday, July 24. The contest is online at USAToday.com.

The beginning of the Schuylkill River Trail segment in Phoenixville. The borough hosted an official opening celebration of the new section of trail on Saturday, April 25.

The beginning of the Schuylkill River Trail segment in Phoenixville. The borough hosted an official opening celebration of the new section of trail on Saturday, April 25.

The nominations for best urban trail include the American River Bike Trail in Sacremento, Calif.; the Atlanta BeltLine in Atlanta, Ga.; the Boulder Creek Path in Boulder, Colo.; the Buffalo Bayou Park in Houston, Texas; the Burke-Gilman Trail in Seattle, Wash.; the Forest Park Trails in Portland, Ore.; the Grand Rounds/Midtown Greenway in Minneapolis, Minn.; the Indianapolis Cultural Trail in Indianapolis, Indiana; the Lady Bird Lake Hike and Bike Trail in Austin, Texas; the Lakefront Trail in Chicago, Ill.; the Griffith Park Trails in Los Angeles, Calif.; the Louisville Loop Trail in Louisville, Ken.; the Manhattan Waterfront Greenway in New York, N.Y.; the Minuteman Bikeway in Boston, Mass.; the MKT Nature and Fitness Trail in Columbia, Mo.; the Mount Vernon Trail in Virginia; the River Walk and Mission Trail in San Antonio, Texas; the Rose Kennedy Greenway in Boston, Mass.; and the Swamp Rabbit Trail in Greenville, S.C.

The Schuylkill River Trail, which stretches from Philadelphia to Phoenixville for 26 miles, also has paved spur trails that bring the total mileage to more than 60 miles. That includes the 20-mile Perkiomen Trail, from Oaks to Green Lane in Montgomery County, and a six-mile Chester County spur from just outside Phoenixville in Cromby to Parkerford.

Ryan Conway, a founder of the Conshohocken Running Club, said the group attracts between 70 to 80 people for a Thursday night run on the trail.

“The reason the club became so popular is because there is a large population in Conshohocken that likes to use the trail,” said Conway, a salesman for the Conshohocken Brewing Company. “The trail is what makes the club so popular. We use it to run to Manayunk sometimes.”

The production brewery at 739 E. Elm St. has an attached taproom that is located next to the trail, Conway said.

“It is a boon for us. Our logo is a bicyclist holding a beer,” he said. “We get about half of our customers on the weekend days from the cyclists and runners. It is relaxing to be able to sit back and drink a beer and watch bicyclists on the trail.”

Two members of the Conshohocken Running Club are training with the club to run in the Philadelphia Marathon in November.

Beth Bonnevie, 29, a Conshohocken resident for four years, has been “a runner since grade school and a competitive runner at Mount St. Joseph Academy.

“I live basically on the trail. I run to the Philadelphia Art Museum and back or up to Valley Forge,” Bonnevie said. “You can just run for hours on the trail. I just signed up for my first marathon, the Philadelphia Marathon in November.”

Mark Petroski, 26, enjoys running in a group on the trail.

“It is off the roads so it’s safer,” Petroski said. “I run three times a week with the club.”

Petroski earned a mechanical engineering degree at Drexel University and ran his first marathon in college, he said.

“Running is a good stress relief thing,” he said. “The running club has made it fun to meet people. It is great to run in a group.”

Rob Kuhlman, the board president of the Schuylkill River Greenway Association, used the Schuylkill River Trail for recreational biking while living for 30 years in Norristown, he said. The geology professor commuted by bike to Montgomery County Community College in Whitpain for 38 years. He and his wife recently moved to Pottstown.

“Now I get on the trail in Pottstown and ride up to Reading, a distance of 35 miles round trip,” Kuhlman said. “You see all kinds of people on the trail.”

On Thursday, Kuhlman and a group of about 20 people from several regulatory agencies bicycled a short distance in Pottstown to a press conference with the state DCNR Secretary, Cindy Adams Dunn.

“I spent the last week on a kayak trip on the river and we were within line of sight of the trail where we saw lots of bike riders,” Kuhlman said. “It is a real asset to the community.”

Patrick Starr, the executive vice president of the Pennsylvania Environmental Council, called the trail “a great recreational amenity for everyone.”

“This is truly a great urban trail because it goes through many towns and goes out to a natural area, the corridor between Norristown and the Valley Forge National Historic Park,” Starr said. “I’m a long distance cyclist. It is not uncommon for me to be on the trail every week.”

Starr said he frequently stops in Conshohocken or Norristown for food and drinks when he bicycles from Philadelphia.

Kathy Tauber, a resident of Phoenixville for 28 years, has served as a trail ambassador on the Schuylkill River Trail for more than five years for the Schuylkill River Heritage Area. As part of that program, she bicycles on the trail eight hours a week and distributes maps of the trail to bicyclists.

“I bike on the trail two to three times a week. My husband Detlev and I have also gone on the ‘rails to trails’ excursions,” Tauber said. “We did the trip from Pittsburgh to Washington, D.C. That was 350 miles over six days.”

She said twice a week they take the six-mile Cromby trail for a quick, 12-mile bike ride. The couple also goes on group rides with Bill’s Bikers.

“One of the nice parts of the trail is that it follows the river and you get to see the wildlife in the river,” Tauber said. “It makes it a unique experience.”

An exciting offshoot for the Schuylkill River Trail in West Norriton is the Sullivan’s Bridge being built across the Schyulkill River to the Valley Forge National Historical Park. Work on the $9.3 million, 14-foot wide, pedestrian bridge began in May 2014. It will replace a rickety, 3-foot-wide boardwalk-style pedestrian/bicycle walkway bolted onto the side of the Route 422 bridge. That narrow outrigger was built after the Betzwood Bridge, popularly called the “Whistling Bridge,” was demolished in 1995.

The bridge deck for the 604-foot long bridge will be about 25 feet above the river’s surface, much lower than the Route 422 bridge. It will be supported by three concrete piers in the Schuylkill River and connect the Schuylkill River Trail with the trail network in Valley Forge National Historical Park. The construction project by J.D. Eckman Inc. of Atglen will be completed in May 2016.

The bridge is named after Major Gen. John Sullivan, who was instructed by General George Washington to build a bridge across the Schuylkill River during the 1777-1778 Valley Forge winter encampment by the Continental Army.

Further downstream in the Manayunk section of Philadelphia, a $4.1 million trail project is converting a former regional railroad bridge into a pedestrian and bicycle trail connecting the Cynwyd Heritage Trail in Lower Merion to the Schuylkill River Trail. Construction on the Manayunk Bridge Trail started in October 2014 and is slated to be completed this fall.

For information about the trail, go to schuylkillrivertrail.com.

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