HATFIELD TWP — Plans are in the works to study ways of expanding a trail network that could tie together several local towns with the rest of Montgomery County and beyond.

Hatfield Township has signed on to a joint effort to study future routes for extensions of the planned Liberty Bell Trail, and other local towns could soon follow.

"It's been discussed by the county and by the Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission as a regionally significant trail," said Hatfield Township Manager Aaron Bibro.

"There's a lot of people that are pushing to see at least feasibility studies performed, to plan the route of the trail," he said.

The overall Liberty Bell Trail project, as developed by the Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission, will run along the former Liberty Bell trolley line from Quakertown south throughout the Philadelphia suburbs, connecting to other trails including the Saucon Rail Trail and Schuylkill River Trail, according to a draft resolution from Hatfield and information posted by Lansdale Borough.

Roughly ten miles of possible trail routes would be studied including portions in Franconia, Hatfield and Upper Gwynedd townships and Hatfield, North Wales, Lansdale, Souderton and Telford Boroughs, updating a similar study done in 2005 with enough detail for each municipality to create implementation plans. The study would be overseen by the Pennsylvania Environmental Council, Bibro said, which has agreed to assist the group in submitting a grant application for the funds to cover the full feasibility study.

Early estimates are that the joint study will cost roughly $200,000, and the municipalities have agreed informally to jointly contribute $40,000 to be used as a match toward grant applications, according to Bibro.

"What you're simply committing to is to applying for grant funding, as an inter-municipal application with all the towns, with PEC completing the application on our behalf, without any costs," he said.

"The local share then would be contributed by all of the towns evenly," Bibro siad, unless some unusual problem arises.

So far Hatfield Borough has completed roughly half a mile of the Liberty Bell Trail, running along railroad tracks from Vine Street to Towamencin Avenue near Main Street.

In Lansdale, the newest portion of the borough's public trail network is now open: borough and Montgomery County officials held a ceremonial ribbon cutting on Oct. 26 to officially open a portion of the Liberty Bell Trail running through town.

State Rep. (and former Lansdale councilman) Steve Malagari, Montgomery County Commissioners Val Arkoosh and Ken Lawrence, borough council members Mary Fuller and Carrie Hawkins-Charlton, and borough Manager John Ernst took part in the ceremony, formally opening a portion of the trail running along Railroad Avenue between Broad and Main Streets.

Future portions of the trail in Lansdale are planned to run southeast along the railroad tracks, past the borough freight station and Andale Green development to Stony Creek Park, then through the park into Upper Gwynedd. Heading north from Railroad Avenue, proposed extensions of the trail will run through the town's Madison Lansdale Station apartment complex, then connect to neighboring Hatfield Township trail network on new portions still being planned and engineered.

"The trail has been an important part of connecting all of our neighborhoods together, and it's been a long process, to get it done," Ernst said.

Hatfield's commissioners signed on to the joint study during their action meetings on Oct. 23, and Upper Gwynedd's board had it on their Oct. 28 action agenda, but tabled it to learn more about possible costs.

Both also approved similar motions voicing support for a regional DVRPC effort to construct a total of 500 miles of a "circuit trail" in the greater Philadelphia region by 2025.

"We happen to be adjoining to a lot of these trails coming through, even some right past our parks," said Upper Gwynedd Commissioner Tom Duffy, before his board unanimously approved the support resolution.

Hatfield's board unanimously approved both the feasibility study support and the circuit trail motions on Oct. 23, and Bibro said more details will be announced as the planning proceeds.

"The half-mile in Hatfield Borough is the only town that has actually completed any portion of this trail," prior to Lansdale's segment opening, Bibro said, "so all the other towns are trying to catch up, and we've just got to figure out where to put it."

"It's a great example of towns coming together to try to build a needed, and an interesting public improvement, that we think the people in the area will use," he said. "Then, hopefully, we can start chipping away at building this trail."

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