10/11/14 Manayunk Bridge Trail

Main Line Times Column, Places We Love – Manayunk Bridge Trail

Next Tuesday, October 28th, is a historic day.  It represents the culmination of a clear vision, strong leadership and a lot of work by many individuals who found common ground despite many diverse viewpoints.  This week’s Place We Love is the  Manayunk Bridge Trail connecting the Cynwyd Heritage Trail in Bala Cynwyd to Philadelphia’s Manayunk neighborhood.

One thing about living in southeastern PA that strikes me is that trails are important parts of communities.  People value them.  They connect diverse groups of people, they give you access to special places and they offer benefits to your well-being.  We are also willing to roll up out sleeves and help to create them.

The vision of a regional trail network for Philadelphia, the Circuit, has been around for quite some time.  It includes a 750-mile network of bicycle and pedestrian trails.  To date more than 300 miles of the trail exists.  It’s designed to connect people to jobs, communities and parks in the region.

The creation of each piece of the trail faces its own unique challenges.  Over the past several years it has been a privilege to see the Cynwyd Heritage Trail transform from an abandoned rail line full of invasive plants and tons (literally!) of trash to a vibrant, beautiful, well-designed trail.   During the whole process of creating the Cynwyd trail, the vision of the next step was clear and becoming more of a reality which each old tire rolled off the site.  People couldn’t wait to be able to get across the river.

The benefits of a bridge between Lower Merion and Manayunk are endless.  They include commuting from Manyunk to Philadelphia, a Sunday afternoon walk over the Schuylkill River to enjoy a craft beer with friends, sunset proposals, New Year’s celebrations and so much more.  Imagine all of the inspiration and ideas that could emerge from just simply connecting two communities that face each other across a river.

Fast forward to next Tuesday, when they will break ground to begin repurposing this historic bridge into a trail across the hidden river, the Schuylkill.  The question in my mind is what did it take to get to this historic moment.  How did the job get done?

It was certainly no small task.  You are talking about coordinating a county (Montgomery), a township (Lower Merion), a planning district (Manayunk) and a city (Philadelphia).  You are also talking about a bridge that crosses over the busiest part of the Schuylkill Expressway, the Schuylkill River – a navigable waterway, connects to railroads and commuter rails.  There is an endless list of diverse stakeholders.  Let’s not forget the cost.  The project needed nearly $5,000,000 to fund the design, engineering and construction costs.

How can such a diverse group of people come together to, fairly quickly I might add, create such an amazing result?  I humbly submit that this is a great example of strong vision and leadership.  With a clear vision of building this bridge, the leaders from all parties came together and got the job done. This project required cooperation and creating strong partnerships.  Community and business leaders guided their talented staffs through a challenging course to find commonalities and find ways to make this project happen.  Every single individual involved played an instrumental role in the success of the Bridge.

At the end of the day, this hard work and collaboration has produced big dividends.  We really have something special to celebrate on Tuesday as well as a fantastic model of cooperation to inspire similar kinds of initiatives.  As this trail is constructed this coming year, I hope you will take the time to thank our leaders for their vision and leadership of this project.  I also hope you will thank the talented individuals who made this project become a reality.  Better yet, come to the ceremony on Tuesday and tell them personally that this is a Place You Love.

The Groundbreaking Ceremony for the Manayunk Bridge Trail will be held on Tuesday, October 28, 2014, at 11:00 AM on the Manayunk Bridge where High Street meets DuPont Street in the Manayunk Section of Philadelphia.  All are welcome.

Patty Thompson is the Executive Director of the Lower Merion Conservancy.  She can be reached at patty@lmconservancy.org.

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