Hiking senator makes a stop in Carbon County
Sen. John Yudichak talks with Jay Frey of Chantilly Goods during a stop during his “Senator Takes a Hike” tour of the D&L Trail. CHRIS REBER/TIMES NEWS
Sen. John Yudichak speaks outside the Lehighton Outdoor Center before beginning a hike along the D&L Trail. CHRIS REBER/TIMES NEWS
State Sen. John Yudichak says a visit to Carbon County made him a believer in ‘heritage tourism’ — the idea of using the remnants of an area’s past to attract new visitors.
So naturally, he was happy to boast about the area on Monday morning as he set off to hike along the Carbon County section of the Delaware and Lehigh National Heritage Corridor rail trail.
He is currently fulfilling a pledge he made back in February, to hike the entire trail if the Eagles won the Super Bowl.
“I love walking in the footsteps of history,” Yudichak, D-Luzerne Carbon, said.
Yudichak hiked through Lehighton, Weissport and Jim Thorpe Monday.
He is aiming to complete the trail before Friday, when he will hold an event in Wilkes-Barre.
Along the way, Yudichak stopped at the new Lehighton Outdoor Center, and bought ice cream at Weissport’s Chantilly Goods, two businesses that benefit greatly from tourists visiting the area.
Elissa Garofalo, executive director of the D&L National Heritage Corridor, said that while she’s not a big football fan, she is thankful that the Eagles won the Super Bowl because of the attention brought to the trail by Yudichak’s pledge.
Tourism is the number one industry in the county, and number two statewide behind agriculture.
Carbon County has seen the most impact from the trail, whether it is by tourists traveling to the area or businesses that have sprung up because of the trail.
Yudichak said the trail has created $20 million in economic impact, 6,000 jobs, and 300,000 tourists each year — roughly the population of Pittsburgh.
“It’s so much more than a community asset, it really is an economic engine,” he said. “It’s about jobs, history, conservation and economic development.”
The Lehighton Outdoor Center is a great example.
Owner Jerry McAward said he first came to Carbon County on a rafting trip, and now he operates three businesses in the county.
Lehighton Borough Manager Nicole Beckett talked about the impact that the Lehighton Spur of the D&L Trail has brought to her town, evidenced by businesses like the outdoor center.
“The trail enhances the quality of life, promotes healthy lifestyles, and boosts our local economy,” Beckett said. “Being a part of the trail system gives us a better place to work, live and visit.”
Other than fulfilling his Super Bowl promise, Yudichak is hiking the trail to draw attention to the gaps that remain. The D&L trail has completed approximately 93 percent of its footprint.
The gaps that remain, however, are the most complicated sections of the trail, requiring collaboration between D&L, local governments and railroads.
“The low-hanging fruit has been plucked,” Garofalo said.
Yudichak got special permission to hike across what the D&L has called the No. 1 statewide trail gap — the Mansion House Pedestrian bridge.
But no one at Monday’s hike could say when the bridge would open, closing a crucial gap between Lehigh Gorge State Park and the county’s section of trail leading to the Lehigh Valley. However Garofalo said a grant for the project expires at the end of the year, so that may be a deadline.
“There’s a lot of people locally and at the state level that are working on it, and we hope to have an announcement soon,” Garofalo said.
When asked, Yudichak also addressed rumors that the funds for the bridge could have been used for regular roads and bridges in the area.
He said the grants for the trail, which have totaled in the millions over the years, are earmarked by the legislature specifically for those type of projects, and have no impact on funding for roads.
“They’re going to continue to invest because they see the value, they see the return on investment,” Yudichak said.