26 years in the making: Pedestrian bridge connects trail
The Jim Thorpers bicycle team has raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for families of fallen police officers and children’s charities.
Many of the riders train on the Delaware & Lehigh Trail, so it was appropriate that team members were the first riders to cross the new pedestrian bridge which will carry the trail across the Lehigh River in Jim Thorpe.
State and regional officials gathered Monday morning to dedicate the Mansion House Bridge in a moment which was 26 years in the making. While the bridge will remain closed until a ramp can be constructed on the far side of the span, the atmosphere was celebratory.
“Today’s dedication, it’s not an opening, is the culmination of more than two decades of dreams, risks, solid planning and hard work, boots on the ground, to realize a fully connected D&L trail that connects northeast Pennsylvania to the Philadelphia region, to become Pennsylvania’s longest multiuse trail,” said Elissa M. Garofalo, executive director of the Delaware & Lehigh National Heritage Corridor.
The bridge was temporarily opened between 9:30 a.m. and 2 p.m. The new bridge will eventually close a key gap in the 165-mile Delaware and Lehigh Trail.
The bridge’s new owners, the Carbon County Commissioners, say they won’t open the bridge to the public until trail improvements on the east side of the bridge are finished.
When it’s complete, the bridge will create a 57-mile continuous stretch from Glen Summit, Luzerne County to Cementon, Lehigh County.
The commissioners said it was a historic day for the county and the trail. Commissioner Tom Gerhard predicted that the number of tourists who use the trail will only increase because of the new link. Commissioner Wayne Nothstein said it’s a resource for locals, who can take advantage of the health benefits of the trail, and visitors to the area.
“It has been a long uphill climb to get to where we are today, but it was well worth it,” Nothstein said.
The opening ceremony reflected the trail’s dual role among residents and tourists. Palmerton United Veterans Organization kicked off the dedication by unfurling two flags on the bridge. A few minutes later, a couple dozen Jim Thorpers made the first crossing.
About 330 riders, participants in the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy’s 2018 Pennsylvania Sojourn, followed the Thorpers across the bridge as they began a 50-mile ride from Jim Thorpe to Easton.
The Pennsylvania Department of Conservation of Natural Resources Secretary Cindy Adams Dunn headlined the officials who helped to dedicate the new bridge.
Dunn said the patchwork of funding from different state agencies represents an effort by the Wolf administration to have different departments coordinate in order to effectively distribute state resources.
“A major goal of DCNR is to close gaps in major trails across the state, and it heartens me to note the Mansion House Bridge is the first to do just that,” Dunn said.
The bridge is good news for local outfitters who serve the Lehigh Gorge area. They say they are ready to expand their offerings further downstream.
Sierra Fogal of Pocono Biking said they are ready to shuttle riders to the lower section of trail when the bridge is complete. Moreover, she’s looking forward to it as a rider herself.
“I’m really excited to have access to the bottom section. And from a business standpoint, it’s really nice to be able to run people in a new section.”
Members of the Jim Thorpers said they’re looking forward to using the new link as they train for their annual City to Shore charity bike ride. They often use the trail to train in small groups.
“It makes you stronger, riding on the trail. There’s a little more resistance and you have to pedal the whole time,” said Michele Fisher, a Thorper who lives in Whitehall.
The final cost of the bridge was $4.1 million, more than the projected cost of $3.3 million.
The bridge is a 200-foot through truss bridge built in Alabama with American steel.
Jim Thorpe Borough Council has a grant to complete work on a ramp that will connect the east end of the bridge to the D&L trail. Borough council is accepting bids for the project.