Abandoned Pennsylvania Turnpike
April 7, 2016
Stony Valley Railroad Grade
April 8, 2016

Swatara Rail-Trail

Located to the west of Swatara Creek, this trail is 10 miles (16 km) long and is within close proximity of the Bear Hole Trail and Stony Valley Railroad Grade. Swatara Rail Trail also offers a connection to the Appalachian Trail near Inwood for another kind of experience for visitors and is set within Swatara State Park that occupies 3,500 acres of land.

When anthracite coal was discovered in Tremont, a canal was built in the 1820s to connect Susquehanna and Schuylkill rivers to aid in the transportation of the new found coal. This canal was the Union Canal. While on Swatara Rail Trail you will actually identify some remains of the railroad that passed here once as well as the canal.

From Pine Grove, this trail extends all the way to Lickdale crossing the creek on a new bridge along the way. Right after the bridge Swatara Rail Trail joins Bear Hole Trail and these two, form a loop to ride along the waterway that is 20 miles long. Crushed limestone is characteristic of these two but there is a section that was closed in July 2013 on the northeastern side that is not improved.

The closed section is between Suedberg and Pine Grove Interchange. Another section from Waterville Bridge to Lickdale trailhead remains unimproved but is still accessible and useable while the bridge itself which serves as a crossing for the Appalachian Trail, has a short section that is paved. The Lebanon and Tremont Branch of the Philadelphia and Reading Railroad is the exact spot where the Swatara Rail Trail lies.

This railroad facilitated transportation between the coalfields in Schuylkill County and Lebanon town for quite some time before Interstate 81 came to completion in the 1960s. Abandonment of this particular branch of the railroad in phases is what followed after this and the first section to be affected was the eastern part of Suedberg in 1965, while the remaining ones experienced the same between 1978 and 1981.

Later on when the state acquired the right of way of the abandoned railroad, Swatara Rail Trail was created. In the initial stages, the plan was to set up a dam for boating and recreational fishing as well as the building of a reservoir that would supply the City of Lebanon with drinking water. However, this changed after PADCNR explored other options and in 2012 works commenced at Swatara State Park where the trail passes, to make it accessible for various activities such as fishing, biking, canoeing, picnicking as well as hiking.

These are some of the activities to engage in as a visitor as you also get a chance to explore the park’s lush forest while on the trail. Several parking points and informational kiosks are also available and any of these can mark the start point of your expedition. The fact that Swatara Rail Trail connects to other trails also gives you the opportunity to experience much more and so, if you appreciate extended periods of such opportunities, then, this trail might just be the perfect one for you.

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