Radnor looks at expanding trails

An informational sign greets visitors to the Radnor Trail. A draft plan for the township envisions 28 miles of new trails, built over time, connecting open space, schools, and neighborhoods, at an estimated cost of $9.5 million.
An informational sign greets visitors to the Radnor Trail. A draft plan for the township envisions 28 miles of new trails, built over time, connecting open space, schools, and neighborhoods, at an estimated cost of $9.5 million. (RON TARVER / Staff Photographer)
Posted: July 14, 2014

The trail would be an invitation to criminals and depress property values, its critics warned, and the proposal to build it over an old railroad bed set off tense debates at public meetings, close votes, and a lawsuit.

Now, nearly a decade since the 2.4-mile trail opened in Radnor Township, it is popular - even congested, at times - with walkers, runners, and bicyclists.

It is such a success, in fact, that Radnor is considering a long-range plan that would more than triple the length of trails through the township, connecting, and making use of, its open space.

The balance between open space and development is especially delicate in the wealthy Delaware County township, home to valuable Main Line real estate. The township's median home value of more than $597,000 ranks second in the region to Upper Makefield Township, Bucks County, according to the Nielsen 2014 service Inc.

Radnor's efforts also are symptomatic of a far-broader push, on a regional and national scale, to build multiuse trails.

"It's beyond a fad," said Peter Simone, president of Norristown-based Simone Collins Landscape Architecture. "Everywhere that we work, people are very, very interested in having access to trails."

Simone, who is working with Radnor to complete its open-space plan, said his firm had worked on designs for more than 70 trails around the state in the last 20 years - and demand for that work is growing.

A draft plan for Radnor envisions 28 miles of new trails connecting open space, schools, and neighborhoods.

"If there's one thing we've learned from our rail trail, it's that if you build it, they will come," Commissioner Elaine Schaefer said.

The plan also comes at a cost: Its estimated price tag is $9.5 million.

Trails would not be built immediately, but over perhaps 10 to 15 years, Schaefer said, and the township would seek grant money to cover costs.

"Hopefully there's at least a plan in place that shows you where to do it and how to do it now," said Cheryl Tumola, a member of the committee developing the plan. "Which would be great because there have been complaints about we buy open space willy-nilly whenever it becomes available or it's endangered."

The township's most recent open-space purchase, at a cost of $11.6 million, will protect 71 acres of Androssan, the fabled estate that inspired the movie The Philadelphia Story.

Schaefer said the new proposal to enhance the trail network would require little or no land acquisition, since it would mainly involve township and rights-of-way properties. Rather, she said, it focuses on "using our limited resources to connect what we have."

That approach has become popular around the region in the last 20 years, said Christopher Linn, manager of the office of environmental planning for the Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission.

"Not just Radnor, but other communities and other local governments have really been looking to invest in and build and connect trail networks," he said.

Linn cited similar work by Montgomery, Chester, and Bucks Counties, as well as increased attention on building multiuse trails in Philadelphia.

The proposed trail network in Radnor would not pass entirely through open space. It would also connect downtown areas to trails by improving accessibility for bicyclists and pedestrians. The committee that developed the plan prioritized making it easier to access the Radnor Trail from downtown Wayne, for example.

Another highlight: Trails around township-owned open space between the Blue Route and Archbishop John Carroll High School. Set in a highly developed and congested area, the wooded property is not currently used for recreation.

"Those are kind of locked areas of land that are difficult for people to get to, and they're very primitive and natural," said Susan Byrne, a member of the committee working on the plan.

The committee is now collecting feedback on its "greenways and open-space plan," which is expected to go before the township commissioners this fall.

Twenty years after a contentious battle for the Radnor Trail began, trail enthusiasts are hopeful that they will now face less opposition.

The township received a state grant to build a 19-foot-wide trail along the old Strafford P&W rail line in 1994. It opened in 2005, after years of delay and litigation.

"Oh, my goodness, it was so incredibly volatile," recalled Tumola, who lobbied for the trail.

Tumola often walks from her home to the Radnor Trail and said she learned a valuable lesson from the last fight for a trail:

"If you don't ask for it, it's not going to happen."


lmccrystal@phillynews.com

610-313-8116 @Lmccrystal

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