Hikers, bicyclists and outdoor enthusiasts are being asked to support a new campaign — Connect the Circuit — to enhance and complete a network of trails extending into nine counties in Central Pennsylvania and New Jersey through a project announced this week by a group called the Circuit Coalition.
“It will become one of the signature hallmarks that make Greater Philadelphia unique,” said Jeremy Nowak, president of the William Penn Foundation, a member and major backer of the 17-member coalition, calling the planned network of trails “The nation’s finest … providing non-motorized access from the Appalachian Trail to the Atlantic Ocean.”
Officials with the coalition hope to raise awareness of the trails as they work to connect existing trails and build new ones.
The group’s name stems from the network of trails, some as long as 44 miles, that crisscrosses the region. It was recently dubbed the Circuit in a regional naming contest and now officials are hoping to raise funds to enhance and to complete the project.
In addition, they have rolled out an interactive website to help users plan their trips.
Hopes are that the trails will draw all sorts of people to the region. In addition to extolling the health benefits of the trail, officials said the trails would provide an economic benefit for the area.
“Connecting the circuit of trails in our region makes the Greater Philadelphia region a stronger, smarter and more sustainable urban and suburban environment, and attracts new companies and employers who choose to base their operations here,” said Mayor Michael Nutter. “Investing in trails will help grow and strengthen the region in addition to connecting it.”
Camden Mayor Dana Redd agreed.
“The Camden Greenway will join the Circuit if trails connecting our residents to riverfronts, open space, regional job opportunities and transportation alternatives,” she said.
Over the past two years, the trail movement has gained momentum with the infusion of federal and local funds. A U.S. Department of Transportation TIGER grant provided $23.2 million for local trail development. Another $5 million came through stimulus money, and the William Penn Foundation contributed $10 million.
As it announced its campaign, the Coalition rolled out a website that allows users to plan trips, access maps and other activities available along the trails. It is available at www.connectthecircuit.org. The site features a social networking component and encourages conversation about the trails and its attractions.
“As a child, I used to ride these trails for fun,” said David D’Alba of the city’s Fairmount section. “Today, I tow my daughter along one of these trails as part of my commute to work. I hope as she gets older, and the Circuit becomes more complete, she too will have the opportunity to enjoy these trails.”