Thursday, March 22, 2012
In today’s world of reduced funding at all levels of government, leadership is struggling with prioritizing the funds it has and is trying to find ways to make those funds do more. Inevitably, that means downsizing or, in some cases, eliminating monies for that which is not absolutely essential.
Faced with these budgetary realities, the Chester County, PA government was reluctant to abandon or downsize a project as important to its citizens as the Chester Valley Trail. It decided to launch a unique funding initiative that would enable the Chester Valley Trail to still move forward with construction and enhancements, ensuring that the Chester Valley Trail will become a first-class, highly-used rail-trail uniting the highly populated Chester/Montgomery county border area near Valley Forge with Downingtown in the central part of the county.
The Chester County Commissioners asked the Friends of the Chester Valley Trail (http://www.chestervalleytrail.org/), a non-profit organization assisting the Chester County Parks and Recreation Department (http://dsf.chesco.org/ccparks/site/default.asp) in maintaining and enhancing the Trail, to aid a partnership they wanted to form. They wanted Natural Lands Trust (http://www.natlands.org/ ) to join this effort. The region’s largest conservation organization and a group dedicated to connecting people with nature, Natural Lands Trust would lend its credibility and expertise to a project that would solicit citizen and business support for the Chester Valley Trail. This effort would leverage the funds Chester County could provide, thereby strengthening the final product and improving time lines for completion.
THE CHESTER VALLEY TRAIL FUNDING PROJECT
The Commissioners asked a member of the Friends group, Ben LaGarde, to act as Director of the Project. After meeting with Chester County and Natural Land's Trust, they decided that the project’s focus would be divided into two main segments: one, funding enhancements to the existing trail segments that run from east of Exton to the border with Montgomery County near Valley Forge, known as Phases 1 and 2 and; two, funding construction of Phases 3 and 4 from east of Exton to Downingtown. In late 2011, the project received a boost when it obtained a grant from the William Penn Foundation and sponsorship from the Chester County Conference and Visitors Bureau to help pay for its expenses.
During the coming months, Ben will meet with various local civic and business groups to discuss the importance of the Chester Valley Trail to their community and explore ways in which they can contribute to this important Chester County linear park. “Trails like the Chester Valley Trail have a demonstrated beneficial economic as well as recreational impact on people surrounding them,” Ben says. “The Chester Valley Trail will link central Chester County and Downingtown with the northeastern section of the County. This will connect Chester County to the Schuylkill River Trail and Philadelphia on the east and The Struble Trail on the west, thus helping form a valuable trail network. This network will act like a ‘new freeway’ would in a road-less area, bringing new visitors and businesses to serve them to the area surrounding the Trail. Such trails have been well documented in their beneficial economic effects on areas they touch.”