WELLSBORO — After 20 years of planning, waiting and progress measured in increments, the finish line to connect Wellsboro and the Pine Creek Rail Trail is in sight.

The Marsh Creek Greenway project got a big impetus from two Department of Conservation and Natural Resources Community Conservation Partnerships Program grants announced last week.

The county will receive $33,90 toward the acquisition of approximately 20.86 acres in Delmar Township to provide approximately 0.3 miles of trail and $585,400 to construct approximately 1.85 miles of trail from Hilboldt Road in Delmar Township to Charleston Street in Wellsboro.

“The closer we get, the closer we are to the real impact it will have once the trail connects Wellsboro to the 62-mile Pine Creek Rail Trail,” said Commissioner Erick Coolidge.

The 3.2 mile connector trail has been a long-time getting to this point. The idea originated nearly 20 years ago among a group of Stokesdale landowners who wanted to protect their property from encroachment by the stream running alongside the railroad. Jim Weaver and Skip Cavanaugh developed the greenway proposal and spearheaded the idea for many years.

Several years ago, Tioga County formed a trail authority and the Greenway is its initial project.

The connector trail is expected to generate between $8-10 million annually for the economy, bring an additional 64,000 visitors to the area and create 114 new jobs.

Those figures, Coolidge said, are based on economic impact that resulted in other communities with operating trails. He expects to see other positive spin-offs as well: interest in preserving the environment, attracting new businesses, ehnanced broadband and more.

“It’s going to give back for an awfully long time in ways we cannot think of right now,” he said.

Initially, the trail was to go along a functioning rail line for the northern half, then veer off on an alternate route into Wellsboro. More recently, the county began dialogue with Growth Resources of Wellsboro to abandon the 3.2 mile railroad section and have the trail utilize the train path the entire distance into the borough.

That decision has not been finalized, said Marc Rice, the county’s risk manager. There’s still work to be done to determine whether it is a viable option and to secure the necessary permits.

Should GROW abandon that section of rail line and the trail use it instead, it will lower trail construction costs from $13 million to $8 million.

The most recent grants will allow the county to complete the southern half of the connector trail, going to to bids this November and completing construction in 2023.The county then plans to complete the northern section in 2024.

The connector trail has the support of Wellsboro borough, Delmar Township, local foundations and community members as well as the state departments of Environmental Protection, Conservation and Nautral Resources, Community and Economic Development, and Transportation, Coolidge said.

“They all have embraced this project by showing support for their dollars being invested in it,” he said.

Some local residents have questioned the plan to reroute the trail and abandon the train tracks, Coolidge acknowledged. The action was discussed and reviewed throughout the process and only recently have all involved entities concluded that it is a possibility.

Some of the factors contributing to that decision is the absence of rail service into the borough for two years, the buildout of broadband and the ability to transport freight with other methods.

No local tax dollars have been used on this project, Coolidge emphasized. The county has invested Act 13 impact fees on the project.

“(Department of Conservation and Natural Resources Secretary Cindy) Dunn has been very supportive of what we are doing and has been working with us for several years,” Coolidge said.

Once completed, the trail will become one of several attractions that will move visitors through the Northern and Southern Tiers, including the Finger Lakes and wine country and dark skies at Cherry Springs State Park.

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