June 20, 2018

Commissioners investing in trails: The Union County Trail Initiative

LEWISBURG, PA.  The Union County Board of Commissioners today announced a commitment and long-term investment in the future of bicycle and pedestrian trails in Union County to be known as the Union County Trail Initiative.  Under a soon to be executed memorandum of understanding which will be entered into with the Susquehanna River Valley Visitors Bureau, the Commissioners plan to expand the existing three percent county hotel room tax to five percent.  A portion of the new hotel tax, estimated to generate in excess of $125,000 annually, along with beginning seed money of $100,000 from the county’s Act 13 Greenway and Trails (gas impact fee) funds will be dedicated to promote outdoor tourism and trail use, help underwrite trail maintenance and provide capital to invest in future trail expansion.  As part of the Union County Trail Initiative, a five-member Union County Trail Authority will be established which can, if the Buffalo Valley Recreational Authority agrees, take on ownership of the Buffalo Valley Rail Trail as well as the direction of the Trail Initiative.  

In doing so, the Commissioners acknowledge the importance of linking Union County’s communities, activity hubs, and outdoor recreation opportunities via trails, waterways, walkways and bike paths in order to increase tourism, improve health and wellness, offer alternative transportation options,  and enhance the overall quality of life for residents.  Union County Commissioner Chairman Preston Boop said the partnership with the Susquehanna River Valley Visitor’s Bureau permitting a share of the hotel tax to fund annual trail efforts together with the use of the restricted Act 13 funds allows the county to launch the Union County Trail Initiative without an impact to the county budget. 

Commissioner John Mathias noted this is an important step forward for growing tourism, improving livability and economic development.  Mathias added that in order to compete globally there needs to be amenities in the county and across the region that will spur capital investment and enable employers to attract and retain a talented workforce, and we feel a robust trail network is an important part of that equation.   

Commissioner John Showers echoed the sentiments of his colleagues and noted that bicycle tourism continues to grow in popularity with studies showing how communities can gain economically from improving trail based tourism.  A bicycle tourist himself, Showers said it’s a win-win because local residents also get the benefit of being able to safely bike and walk.  Showers further added that statistics show that cycling enthusiasts spend an average of $124 on lodging alone per night and stay for about 4 to 6 days. Bicycle travelers move slower than motorized travelers so they tend to shop more in small communities, spend more locally, and have a greater positive impact. 

The Commissioners shared that the Susquehanna River Valley Visitors Bureau has already been working on securing a national cycling event for the region with the goal of promoting the valley as a cycling destination. That event, “unPAved of the Susquehanna River Valley” will be held on October 14th and features and explores cycling opportunities in Union County and the region.  The existence of the Buffalo Valley Rail Trail and the new Miller Center made it the perfect start/finish line for this upcoming event. The Visitors Bureau is the title sponsor of this event.

It is anticipated as part of this endeavor the new county trail authority will take ownership of the existing Buffalo Valley Rail Trail from the Buffalo Valley Recreation Authority (BVRA) and assume management and maintenance responsibilities.  The Buffalo Valley Rail Trail is a tremendous recreation, tourism and transportation asset in the county which runs west across three additional municipalities beyond BVRA’s municipal sponsors of Lewisburg Borough and East Buffalo Township. It is logical that responsibility for this multi-municipal trail would come to rest with the county. 

The Commissioners noted that the acquisition of the trail by Union County will include the abandoned rail bridge across the Susquehanna River just north of the Lewisburg Market Street bridge.  The Commissioners, while not having any specific plans for the bridge at this point, view it as a positive tourism and community asset.  County officials have already begun discussions with the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources about the future of the bridge.

Next steps include adopting the amended hotel room tax ordinance, officially establishing the trail authority, and working with BVRA on transfer of the BVRT. Once the trail authority is up and running, in addition to operating and maintaining the BVRT, it will also be tasked with seeking out new opportunities in the county to expand the trail network and will pursue grants and private funding to help offset trail expansion costs.
The Commissioners indicated that the Union County trail initiative has been a work session project for almost two years in discussions with the Visitors Bureau, BVRA, and state officials and local officials. 

For More Information on this Press Release and the Union County Trail Initiative contact:
Union County Board of Commissioners
155 N. 15th Street
Lewisburg, PA 17837