Improving Water Trail Access

Lizzie Hessek, Program Manager

PEC’s mission to achieve conservation through innovation, collaboration, education and advocacy is exemplified through our work with the statewide Water Trails Program. PEC has managed the Pennsylvania Water Trail Program since 2008 in partnership with PA DCNR, PA Fish and Boat Commission, and the National Park Service. Since the program’s inception, PEC and its partners designated over 2,000 miles of rivers and creeks as official Pennsylvania Water Trails. The network of 28 trails span the geography of the state. The Tidal Delaware River Water Trail and the Three Rivers Water Trail provide big city recreational experiences. The Allegheny Wild and Scenic River Water Trail invites paddlers to pristine forests and charming small towns. The Yellow Breeches Water Trail is a natural oasis in the outskirts of the state capital. PEC’s role as manager of the statewide networks allows these diverse trail experiences to exist under one cohesive brand.

Local job training initiative: riverbank restoration on the Tidal Delaware Water Trail

PEC is proud to support the individual management organizations that do the hard work of maintaining and programming the water trails. From Wildlands Conservancy on the Lehigh River to the French Creek Conservancy on the French Creek, the water trail managers work daily to connect local residents to the water trails and provide access to these amazing amenities. One key way PEC supports the managers is by offering the PA Water Trails mini grant program for access improvement projects on designated water trails.

Since 2017, PEC has offered water trail managers the opportunity to apply for up to $5,000 for high-impact projects that increase physical or psychological access to the water trails. PEC acknowledges that “access” means more than building and maintaining boat ramps. “Access” can be supporting programs that address the specific needs of communities of color looking to explore the rivers. “Access” can be adding ADA accessible docks to existing public access point. “Access” can also be environmental education that helps users understand how they can get more involved in stewarding the places they love. As water recreation increases in popularity, the PA Water Trails Program is committed to building a network that all Pennsylvanians can enjoy.

“Access” means more than building and maintaining boat ramps.

Overnight campsite on the Lehigh River Water Trail

The mini grant program has awarded 36 mini grants totaling $100,000 since its inception. Those funds have leveraged $184,813 of matching dollars. The mini grant funds come from PA Water Trails Partnership agency DCNR, and all members of the Partnership have a voice in awarding the mini grants. Mini grants from 2020 included the Conodoguinet Creek Stewardship Project, a new boat launch on the North Branch Susquehanna River, improvements to a boat launch on the French Creek, community member-led environmental education walks along the Tidal Delaware River, and updating the water trail maps and guides for the Three Rivers Water Trail, the Middle Susquehanna River Water Trail, and the West Branch Susquehanna River Water Trail.

The 2021 PA Water Trails Mini Grant Program will open at the end of April. Organizations with an idea to improve access to designated water trails are encouraged to apply for a grant of up to $5,000 (1:1 matching funds are required). Potential applications should look for updates on PEC’s mini grant portal for notifications on when this year’s round will open.