A new access point to a hiking and biking trail of the Delaware and Lehigh National Heritage Corridor is under construction.

Ground was broken Monday morning for the new Lehighton Trailhead project, located along Sgt. Stanley Hoffman Boulevard (Route 209) near the Maiden Lane intersection.

When completed, hikers and bikers will be able to park their cars in Lehighton and then hike or bike an uninterrupted distance of 20 miles to Cementon in Lehigh County.

Lehighton Borough Manager Nicole Beckett said the trailhead will also help local merchants. When people stop at the Trailhead, many will patronize merchants, buying breakfast or other meals and visiting stores in the downtown business area.

"One of my biggest concerns is that we have the by-pass," Beckett said. "Everybody passes right through Lehighton. We want the people to stop."

She explained that when the trailhead is completed, "They now have reason to stop. They have reason to bike. They have reason to hike. It's a great opportunity to bring people to Lehighton."

The groundbreaking was conducted by Elisa M. Garofalo, president and executive director of the D&L National Heritage Corridor; State Rep. Doyle Heffley, Carbon County Commissioners Wayne Nothstein and Tom Gerhard; Lehighton Borough Council members Grant Hunsicker and Scott Rehrig; and Beckett.

Garofalo said the Delaware and Lehigh National Heritage Corridor is 165 miles long, connecting small communities along the way.

The Lehighton trailhead will allow hikers and bicyclists to proceed south to East Penn Township, then Slatington, and eventually to the Lehigh Valley.

Benches will be installed at the trailhead. There also is a pavilion that was salvaged from the Lehighton Municipal Swimming Pool.

Signs will be installed, identifying it as the Lehighton Trailhead. Scott Everett, D&L Trail Manager, said about 40 parking spaces will also be provided.

Heffley termed the trailhead construction "a great project."

"Overall, it's a great asset to the community," he said.

He praised officials of the Delaware and Lehighton National Heritage Corridor and Lehighton borough for working together to make the project a reality.

Nothstein said that working in Jim Thorpe, he sees the large volume of bikers that come into Carbon County to utilize the hiking and biking trails.

Rehrig thanked the D&L Corridor "for considering us and making us part of the trail."

The D&L National Heritage Corridor extends from Mountaintop in Luzerne County to Bristol in Bucks County. A few sections of the trail are not completed, making it impossible to navigate the 165 mile length without making some detours.

For example, Garofalo pointed out that the Lehighton trailhead won't allow hikers to proceed north to Jim Thorpe because that section is owned by a railroad and is private property.

She said people can hike along the Lehigh Canal from Jim Thorpe to Weissport, and even down to Parryville, but it doesn't have a direct connection with the trail that runs from Lehighton to Cementon along the Lehigh River.

Garofalo said the Lehighton Trailhead project is being financed with a government grant, with Lehighton Borough matching the grant with labor and equipment.