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New Section of Heritage Rail Trail Opens

By Allen Brougham

August 20, 2007, was not the ideal evening for a ribbon-cutting. A brief cloudburst developed just minutes before the ceremony was to begin, but it abated just enough for the dignitaries to quickly scurry beneath a tent near the beginning of the new trail section to cut the ribbon. This all took place at John Rudy County Park, several miles north of York, Pennsylvania.

The Heritage Rail Trail is a very well established and popular linear park running from the Maryland state line near New Freedom, Pennsylvania, north to York, a distance of about 21 miles. I have biked it many times as a member of the Sunset Scramble bicycling group, which meets Tuesday evenings in the late spring and summer. Several years ago it was decided to extend the trail another five miles north to John Rudy Park, and the ceremony I attended officially opened the first phase of that extension, a distance of about a mile and one-half.

Interestingly, the first phase does not connect with the lower 21-mile portion. Yet to be competed are another three and one-half miles - an effort that within the next several years will connect the two portions and result in about a 26-mile trail.

Also of interest is that the new portion will not actually be a 'rail' trail, in the truest sense of the word. While the lower 21-mile portion does indeed follow the right-of-way of the old Northern Central Railway, the upper five-mile portion will not. Much of its route will be built upon the top of a flood levee alongside Codorus Creek. The old rail line, still active at that point, is simply nearby. Still, it was decided to maintain the name of the Heritage 'Rail' Trail in the interest of continuity.

There was still some heavy drizzle following the ribbon-cutting, but since an inaugural bicycle ride had been planned, whoever chose to participate was free to do so. But only one bicyclist was there and ready to assault the newly-opened section. That bicyclist was.... ME!

"It's only water," I said. Anyway, it has been a rather dry summer, and the rain was needed, even if it did tend to dampen the festivities.

So, with television cameras running, I took off on my bike, left the park and rode the trail's portion to the current end. It sports a paved surface - a feature, I am told, intended to prevent washouts if the traditional crusher-run surface had been used instead. Indeed, Codorus Creek (its banks not embellished with a levee at this point) had risen somewhat due to the earlier cloudburst, and the area along the route of the trail is subject to inundation at times.

It was an enjoyable ride, although I did get rather wet (but, again, it was only water), with the new trail twisting and turning pleasantly through a seeming wilderness. It ended abruptly just south of yet another park with an old Pennsylvania Railroad caboose at a sign saying it was the temporary end of the trail (which I touched before heading back).

Such excitement! I went to the event to bike the new trail, and found myself being its very first official user. What an honor!

When I got back to John Rudy Park (and by then the rest of the guests had taken refuge within a pavilion) we all sang 'Happy Birthday' to the Heritage Rail Trail. It was actually a dual-purpose ceremony - the ribbon-cutting had been planned to coincide with the eighth-year anniversary of the opening of the Heritage Rail Trail. We also enjoyed a birthday cake.