A 2.9-mile section of D&L Trail connecting from the Lehigh/Carbon County borders at the Lehigh Gap Nature Center to the entrance to the Trailhead at the Pennsylvania Fish & Boat Commission Boat Launch at Riverview Park in East Penn Township was officially opened on Friday.

A ribbon-cutting dedication signaled completion of the $475,000 project that began construction in January 2011 and was completed in June.

"We are very pleased that about 98 percent of the land needed for the trail is now in public ownership," said Judy Boger, Carbon County's director of planning & development and past president the Delaware & Lehigh National Heritage Corridor. "There are still sections of the trail that need to be completed, but with each ribbon cutting like this, we are getting closer to a continuous, open trail."

The opening of the trail section brings Delaware & Lehigh Corridor Trail one step closer completion of its 165-mile span.

When completed, the hiking and biking trail will connect from Bristol in Bucks County to Wilkes-Barre in Luzerne County-following the canal towpaths and former rail beds that once brought anthracite coal from mine to market.

"We have been working here at Riverview Park with the D&L Trail to enhance the area, and this is another enhancement," said Bill Schwab, chairman of the East Penn Township Park Commission. "On weekends, people are using the trail-biking, hiking, walking their dogs, or paddling on the river. We are a rather small township but we are becoming known for something positive."

Mike Rebert, executive for PennDOT Engineering District 5 said that the project was built through Federal Transportation Enhancement funding.

"We get a little less than $1 million a year for enhancement projects in Schuylkill, Carbon and Monroe counties," he explained. "Typically, enhancement money is used for trails or downtown streetscape."

He noted that this project was shovel-ready and was selected over other projects that were not as far along in the design process.

With the opening of the new section, Carbon County has about 30 miles of completed D&L Trails. This includes 25 miles of continuous trail from White Haven to the Glen Onoko Access of Lehigh Gorge State Park, the Nesquehoning Junction Bridge, and the 1.3-mile section of the trail connecting to the Carbon County Parking Lot in Jim Thorpe.

A future project, due to begin in 2013, will construct a pedestrian bridge from the parking lot across the Lehigh River to just south of the Jim Thorpe Treatment Plant, where it will continue on a section of the trail that continues three miles south to the Weissport trailhead. A future project will continue the trail through Weissport into Lehighton, around the Castle Grill, and down to the road that leads to the Lehighton Treatment Plant.

When construction of the new Pennsylvania Turnpike Lehigh River bridge is completed, the contractor will complete and resurface the trail from the Lehighton Treatment Plant to the Rt. 895 bridge.

Finally, the trail will be completed in Carbon County with a project to go under the Rt. 895 bridge and continue three quarters of a mile to the Riverview Park trailhead.

With representatives gathered from Harrisburg, Carbon County, East Penn Township, the D&L, PennDOT, and the NEPA Alliance, a red ribbon was cut by state Sen. Dave Argall to open the section of the trail.

"I congratulate everyone on bringing the parts together," Argall said. "I've seen tourism grow and grow and grow and I know it means a lot in terms of jobs and economic development."