RAILS-TO-TRAILS CONSERVANCY
29
V.
RAIL-WITH-TRAIL CASE STUDIES
D & L Trail — Lehigh Gorge State Park Trail
Carbon and Luzerne counties, Pennsylvania
Status:
Open. Land purchased in 1972, trail opened in 1980.
Description:
The 25.7-mile Lehigh Gorge Trail was built on the abandoned corridor of the Lehigh
Valley Railroad. Nearly seven miles of the trail are located adjacent to an active railroad corridor
carrying both freight and excursion rail service.
Historically, the narrow river gorge was a primary supply route through eastern Pennsylvania,
transporting timber and coal to Philadelphia. In the 19th century the Lehigh Coal and Navigation
Company constructed 20 dams and more than 20 locks along the 26 miles of river in order to
navigate the steep 800-foot-high slopes of the Pocono Mountains.
After 1860, railroads replaced the canals and by the end of the century the area was known for its
resort accommodations.
Eventually, sections of three active rail-lines ran at the base of the gorge. The rights-of-way were
developed and maintained by separate owners, and the single right-of-way which would become the
D & L Trail was purchased in 1972, along with the acreage to develop a nearly 5,000-acre state park.
Design:
The trail is surfaced with crushed limestone and welcomes trail and mountain bike enthu-
siasts who use the Lehigh Gorge Trail to access the many mountain bike trails in the park. Reading
and Northern Railroad operates Class II freight and a seasonal tourist excursion train on the line. A
second parallel line is operated by Norfolk Southern, carrying Class I freight. The Class I line runs
adjacent to the trail for less than half a mile.
Where it runs parallel to active tracks, the trail is either grade-separated or has a dense barrier of na-
tive vegetation between the active rail and trail.
The majority of the trail was constructed all at once, completing the 24 miles between White Haven
and the southern trailhead at Glen Onoko. But for many years there was no direct access from the
tourist town of Jim Thorpe to the state park without traversing a very steep and narrow motorized
road. After several years of negotiations with the railroad, a bicycle and pedestrian side path was
built along the railroad bridge, providing trail users direct access to the town of Jim Thorpe. The
trail and railroads are maintained, and function, completely independently of each other.
Comments:
The town of Jim Thorpe is a busy tourist destina-
tion and hub for users of the Lehigh Gorge Trail and the Lehigh
River. Commercial outfitters run both rafting and bicycle trips
through the gorge. A common activity marketed to visitors is
to rent a bike, shuttle to the northern end of the trail and then
ride the 26 downhill miles to town. In 2012, a trail user survey
indicated that trail users brought an additional $6 million in
revenue to the community. The Reading and Northern Railroad
excursion trains are equally popular and now offer private charter
excursions into the gorge as well as regularly scheduled weekend
and holiday trips.
D & L Trail, Pa. (Peter Treiber)