By Kaitlyn Foti, The Mercury
Norristown >> The path forward for open space, parks and trails in Montgomery County was laid out in a new report for the county commissioners.
The Montgomery County Open Space Board and the Montgomery County Parks, Trails and Historic Sites Advisory Board has completed a comprehensive plan two years in the making that outlines how the county could improve its green and active areas.
“We discussed how much people enjoy the outdoor network and outdoor recreation in the county. The yearly economic value of outdoor recreation in the county is over $117 million,” said Jody Holton, executive director of the Montgomery County Planning Commission. “There are almost a million yearly visits to the Schuylkill and Perkiomen Valley trails and about $269 million is estimated to be avoided healthcare costs due to people using the outdoor network of trails and open spaces.”
The report included three sections of recommendations. The first was for areas where the county could expand its trails system. There are seven high priority projects and five future projects detailed by the report.
“We looked at completing trail gaps. We have a great regional trail system that is being developed throughout the Philadelphia region and Montgomery County is a leader in that trail system,” Holton said.
Three of the high priority trails are top tier circuit trails, like the Schuylkill River Trail. Under the plan, 0.7 miles would be added from the Route 422 Bridge to Industrial Highway, for a cost of about $400,000. The Cross County Trail, in Plymouth and Whitemarsh townships, would be completed two miles from Germantown Pike to Erdenheim Farm for approximately $3.7 million. For about $700,000, the Pennypack trail would have one mile added from Byberry Road to County Line in Upper Moreland Township.
The Chester Valley Trail is also on the list, with funding for the $9 million also in place for the four miles that would connect S. Gulph Road to Norristown.
More additions to the Cross County Trail, along with extensions to the Power Line Trail and the Wissahickon connection to the Cross County Trail are listed as high priority projects as well.
The second set of recommendations was for land acquisitions the county could make to expand and preserve open space and parks in the system. A total of $11,676,000 was estimated for the high priority acquisitions on the list.
The list includes areas adjacent to Central Perkiomen Valley Park, Green Lane Park, Lorimer Park, Middle Schuylkill Greenway, Peter Wentz Farmstead, Spring Mountain Sunrise Mill, Upper Schuylkill Greenway and a fund of $1 million that could be used for various locations to be determined.
Finally, the report recommended that the two departments continue to work together to preserve and promote open space, parks and trails as part of the Get Out and Go Montco initiative that promotes a healthy, outdoor lifestyle in the county.
“This isn’t just about getting outside and feeling good. It has economic benefits, it has benefits to attract businesses here and it has enormous health benefits,” Commissioner Val Arkoosh said.
Commissioner Bruce Castor pointed out that studies have revealed that homes within a mile of trails and other open space see an increase in property value. Holton confirmed that a DVRPC study estimated that boost at $10,000 per property.
Going forward, the county will use the information to help form its capital budget, which takes shape over the next few months.
“You’ve given us a road map to be able to make an investment in open space parks and trails going forward and we’ve done it in a good government process way,” Commissioner Josh Shapiro said.