Trail of the Month: November 2002
Lebanon Valley Rail-Trail, Pennsylvania
The Lebanon Valley Rail-Trail (LVRT) passes through the heart of Pennsylvania Dutch Country in the southwest corner of Lebanon County, Pennsylvania. In the fall of 2000, the opening of the first five miles of the LVRT between Colebrook and State Route 72 near Mt. Gretna marked Pennsylvania's 1,000th mile of rail-trail. This fall, the second phase of the LVRT was completed, joining the LVRT at the Lancaster County line with the Conewago Trail, a five-mile rail-trail that runs from the county line to Elizabethtown.
With the completion of the second phase of the trail, the LVRT is now a continuous nine-mile route between the Conewago Trail at the Lebanon/Lancaster County line and State Route 72 near Mt. Gretna. In addition, another section of the LVRT extends two miles north from a newly constructed parking area in Cornwall. Plans to complete the missing link between State Route 72 and Cornwall will get underway in 2003. This section will include the rehabilitation of a historic 130-foot iron railroad trestle. Once the third section of the LVRT is completed, 20 miles of continuous rail-trail will run between Elizabethtown in Lancaster County and the city of Lebanon in Lebanon County, making this the longest bi-county rail-trail in central Pennsylvania.
Beginning at the Colebrook trailhead, trail users follow a gentle upgrade through the pristine woodlands of the adjacent state game lands (visitors should stay on the trail and be aware of hunting seasons). South of Colebrook, the scenery transitions into wide-open space with extraordinary views across fields and farms. The community of Mt. Gretna, Pennsylvania, with its Victorian style cottages and summer playhouse, lies a short distance from the trail near milepost six. Just east of Mt. Gretna is the Governor Dick Recreation Area where hiking trails lead to an 80-foot observation tower with views of the surrounding countryside. Another nearby attraction is the Cornwall Furnace National Historic site, a Revolutionary War-era iron foundry.
An interesting aspect of the LVRT is that all fundraising, construction management, trail maintenance and public relations have been performed by an extremely dedicated group of volunteers. Lebanon Valley Rails-to-Trails, Inc. (LVRT, Inc.) is a non profit organization that was formed in 1996 to spearhead the development and management of the LVRT. Operating in a county without a public parks and recreation department, LVRT, Inc., filled the void with volunteer effort and "sweat equity." Local legislators were so impressed by the public support and the success of a private fundraising campaign (which raised over $300,000 for the first phase of the trail) that they responded by providing state grants to extend and complete the development of subsequent trail sections.
Created from the former Cornwall-Lebanon Railroad built by iron ore magnate Robert H. Coleman in the 1880s, the LVRT follows a route rich with social and economic history. In days gone by, special passenger trains carried visitors to the popular summer resort community of Mt. Gretna. At the turn of the 20th century, the railroad provided transport to the Pennsylvania National Guard training encampment near Mt. Gretna. Eventually, passenger service ceased and the Pennsylvania Railroad acquired the line. Freight service continued until Hurricane Agnes washed out sections of track in 1972. In December 1999, LVRT, Inc., acquired the corridor to develop a multi-use trail.