Back Mountain Trail receives $130,000 grant for extension

First Posted: 11/17/2014

DALLAS — As Anthracite Scenic Trails Association (ASTA) Founder Judy Rimple and her husband, David, step down from leadership in the organization this week, they do so with the knowledge that their work over the past 24 years will continue to be appreciated and expanded on by others. Especially in regard to the Back Mountain Trail, which the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation recently announced will be awarded a $130,000 grant for the design and construction of an extension from Overbrook Road to Dorchester Road.

“This project has been one of the most important endeavors that I have ever done,” Rimple said. “I started ASTA in 1995 because there were no walking spaces in our communities.”

She added that over the past 24 years, eight trails were developed.

The Back Mountain trail, according to a Wilkes University web page, was originally built in the 1880s by Albert Lewis, who delivered ice from the Mountain Springs Lake in the Endless Mountains to urban markets. He sold his successful rail line to the Lehigh Valley Railroad Company, who then expanded the service to coal and other goods. The railroad was abandoned in 1963. In 1996, ASTA acquired easements and recorded deeds with Luzerne County for public use of the 2.2-mile corridor.

With help from state and local funding and lots of volunteers, the trail continued to grow and, by 2007, stretched approximately five miles from Luzerne to Shavertown.

“We added another half mile from East Franklin to Lower Demunds Road, which put us into Dallas Township,” Rimple said. “We were able to obtain new ISTEA (Fed. Highway Enhancements) funds in 2007 (over $1 million) to build the next portion from Harris Hill Road to Center Street.

“Unfortunately, funds were drying up after 2009. Today, there is energy again to build more, and there are young people to lead the way. That is probably why we were awarded a grant to finish an important link to the Back Mountain Trail and to start planning and encourage new corridors.”

She said, although it is impossible to predict a completion date for the extension project, plans are underway.

“We will link the current trail from Lower Demunds to our ‘circle trail,’ the old Fern Brook Amusement Park, which many locals remember,” she said. “That will connect Lower Demunds to Dorchester. Our easement will be one mile (circular) on a beautiful piece of property that once was the Fairground of Back Mountain. The drawings are complete for a circle trail to interact with Geisinger Hospital. We also have a DCNR (Department of Conservation and Natural Resources) grant to complete this project (as well as the new grant).”

The Back Mountain Trail is one of 56 transportation alternative projects in line for a combined total of $33 million in federal funds, according to a PennDOT news release. Also in Luzerne County, Wilkes University is awarded $1 million for streetscape and pedestrian safety improvements of two Wilkes-Barre streets: South Franklin and West South Street.

“PennDOT evaluated the applications and made selections based on such criteria as safety benefits, reasonableness of cost, readiness for implementation, statewide or regional significance, integration of land use and transportation decision making, collaboration with stakeholders and leverage of other projects or funding,” states the release.

When asked what the Back Mountain Trail and its upcoming extension mean to the community, Rimple referred to the school children, bikers, hikers and families, all of whom benefit from the trail. She described the trail itself as a link between the past, present and future. Healthy living, entertainment and safe outdoor fun are just a few of its benefits, she said.

And to her personally, the trail is an accomplishment.

“Working with the Back Mountain Bloomers, who dedicate their garden tour funds every other year to Anthracite,” she said, listing some highlights of this accomplishment. “Seeing families walk together on the second mile which looks down on the world as they enjoy unbelievable scenery that is striking in all directions in four seasons. Working with volunteers (we are all volunteers) to pick up, clean up, fix up, repair, etcetera. It is a labor of love that David and I will enjoy for years to come.”

Although the couple officially stepped down from leadership on the ASTA board, she as president and he as secretary, this is not good-bye for them, as they plan to continue their involvement on smaller volunteer levels.

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