On October 2, 35 people attended a community outreach session regarding the Liberty Bell Trail, proposed to span ten miles between Telford and Quakertown. As a new PEC Trails Program Coordinator facilitating my first public trail feasibility meeting, I wasn’t sure what to expect. But over the course of the evening, one thing became clear: residents and stakeholders are excited about trail development in Upper Bucks County!
There’s good reason for that excitement. For one, the trail’s proposed route is rich with history, following a former trolley line that carried passengers between Philadelphia and the Lehigh Valley for nearly forty years. The now-defunct Liberty Bell trolley was named, in turn, for an old wagon path traversed in 1777 by American soldiers as they spirited the iconic object away from advancing British troops to the relative safety of present-day Allentown.
Its latest incarnation reflects the changing face of the region, re-establishing the route as both a recreational asset and a transit corridor linking Greater Philadelphia with the Lehigh Valley for the benefit of pedestrians and cyclists.
82% of residents responding to PEC’s survey voiced support for the Liberty Bell Trail project.
At the meeting, held in Perkasie Borough’s Council Chamber, attendees were invited to ask questions about the trail and, by placing color-coded stickers on display boards, to suggest trail amenities they would most value. The exercise showed residents are particularly enthusiastic about the idea of connecting boroughs’ central business districts to adjacent natural landscape, while educating users about Upper Bucks County’s heritage through informative signs.
That same enthusiasm is echoed in the results of a recent online survey conducted by PEC, which found overwhelming support for the project’s vision among the more than 540 residents who responded. One especially poignant response came from a college student and Perkasie resident who related that years ago, for her Girl Scout service project, she empowered her community to beautify a neighborhood footpath. Because of her efforts, the site now features a mural of the Liberty Bell trolley line and its Perkasie station, listing each of the stops along the route from Norristown all the way to Allentown. That footpath will eventually become part of the Liberty Bell Trail, and the young woman expressed her hope that, when complete, the trail will connect Upper Bucks County communities with one another as the trolley line did a century ago.
PEC partnered with Perkasie Borough’s Parks & Recreation Department and local engineering firm Gilmore & Associates to host the gathering in Perkasie, which will inform a Liberty Bell Trail feasibility study funded by the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources and the Department of Community and Economic Development. Building on the excitement I saw at the meeting and in the survey responses, I will be conducting followup interviews with stakeholders representing municipal governments, school districts, and nonprofit organizations, as well as economic development and cultural groups. These interviews will supplement the feedback that we have already obtained from residents young and old.
The Liberty Bell Trail is far from completion. Yet the level of community engagement makes me optimistic that the development process will continue, resulting in a regional outdoor destination that significantly contributes to Upper Bucks County’s quality of life. I look forward to continuing this work.