Dormant rail lines in York County could become new trail

Tina Locurto
York Dispatch
Gwen Loose, executive director of the York County Rail Trail Authority, and Terry Reichard, Hanover Trolley Trail advisory committee member, left, stand along a newly acquired section of track near Menges Mills Thursday, Dec. 31, 2020. Bill Kalina photo

The acquisition of dormant rail lines could pave the way for a future expansion of new walking paths for York County residents and visitors from afar, officials said. 

The $353,000 purchase of the 8.45 miles of tracks would span two separate sections, from Penn to Heidelberg townships and from Spring Grove to West Manchester Township.

It could be years before people set foot on the new trails, however, according to Gwenyth Loose, executive director of the York County Rail Trail Authority.

"When you can walk into an area that's not that far from your home and feel as though you're in a little bit of wilderness you've never seen before — it's just amazing," Loose said. "And that's the way this is going to be with this beautiful area."

The new rail acquisition is divided in two sections, indicated by a bright green line. The western section will start at Gitts Run Road in Heidelberg Township and finish at a private crossing west of Spring Grove. The eastern section will run from Main Street in Spring Grove borough to Stoverstown Road in West Manchester Township.

Negotiations to acquire the rail corridor, previously owned by railroad holding company Genesee & Wyoming, began in 2017. The transaction was completed in December.

Funding to purchase the tracks was provided by state and local grants, including from the state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources and the York County Community Foundation. 

The project — headed by the York County Rail Trail Authority — is expected to move into its design and engineering phase in 2021.

With plans to hire an independent engineering firm to map out the project in 2021, Loose said aspects of the design phase would include selecting locations of parking lots, fences, gates and signage.

Gwen Loose, executive director of the York County Rail Trail Authority, said, Thursday, Dec. 31, 2020, the sign at Gitts Run Road near Hanover will be removed after the Hanover Trolley Trail extension is finished. Bill Kalina photo

In addition, plans will be developed to connect this section of new trail to the Hanover Trolley Trail. It would not be connected to the York County Heritage Rail Trail, officials said.

Construction permits must be obtained from each of the municipalities that the trail will be located in, including Spring Grove borough and Heidelberg, Jackson and West Manchester townships. 

Municipality meetings will be made public, and Loose encourages interested residents to weigh in on the future trail.

No meetings have been scheduled yet, since the project is early in development, she added.

Gwen Loose, executive director of the York County Rail Trail Authority, and Terry Reichard, Hanover Trolley Trail  advisory committee member, left, stand along a newly acquired section of track near Gitts Run Road near Hanover Thursday, Dec. 31, 2020. Bill Kalina photo

Approval of the project must also pass through the York County Conservation District, to ensure drainage systems on the trail will not have negative effects on local wildlife or streams.

The York County Rail Trail Authority was formed in 1990 by the York County Board of Commissioners. 

Most notably, the authority developed the Heritage Rail Trail, which connects New Freedom to York City, Loose said. 

With plans in the works, Loose said she and volunteers with the authority are excited for development of the new rail trail. 

"They're all areas where the train used to go, but people haven't been able to walk," Loose said. "And now, people will be able to walk or bring a bicycle into these areas."

— Reach Tina Locurto at tlocurto@yorkdispatch.com or on Twitter at @tina_locurto.