Take A Hike On Your Bike: Enjoy the Fall Foliage Cycling the Rail-Trails

Take A Hike On Your Bike: Enjoy the Fall Foliage Cycling the Rail-Trails

By Angela Bristow

It’s fall, and the leaves will be changing soon. One great way to enjoy the fall foliage is by bicycling through the Valley’s extensive rails-to-trails. Nature lovers are sure to thrill at the wildlife that make their homes in the woods along many of the trails. The rail-trails, as they are called, use infrastructure once used by the Lehigh Canal to transport iron, steel, cement and slate, and later developed by railroad companies such as the Lehigh Valley Railroad.

The Delaware & Lehigh National Heritage Corridor, Inc. (DLNHC) in association with St. Luke’s University Health Network has been encouraging local couch potatoes to get out and use the trails as part of a program called Get Your Tail on the Trail. The program, designed to encourage exercise, runs through October. Two special events are still open for participation on September 28 and October 26. DLNHC invites individuals to visit the program’s website www.tailonthetrail.org for further information and registration details.

Other fun events taking place in and around the rail-trails include a marathon the first Sunday in November. On October 20, the Walnutport Canal Association hosts a festival near the Locktender’s House in that town, one of the last locktender’s houses along the Lehigh Canal.

The D&L Trail, the longest trail in the area running 165 miles from Wilkes-Barre to the port of Bristol, cuts through the Lehigh Valley connecting the three cities of Allentown, Bethlehem and Easton. The path follows the picturesque Lehigh Canal towpath until it reaches Easton where it turns and follows the Delaware Canal. This trail portion is known as the Central region of the D&L Trail. The D&L Trail consists of sections of asphalt, crushed stone, and dirt, with newer sections being wheelchair accessible. The D&L Trail welcomes cyclists of all ages, walkers, joggers, environmentalists, bird watchers, and photographers. Running through area parks, such as Hanover Township Canal Park, Lehigh Canal Park, Sand Island, and Hugh Moore Park and National Canal Museum, and along waterways and through historic sites, the trail makes a perfect day trip. There are many points where individuals may picnic, with many of the parks having playgrounds and restroom facilities.

“There are places where there are trees on both sides and you’re walking through a tunnel of color. It’s a great place to come and see the colors, and it’s close to home. Typically the height of the color is the second week in October. In the fall the mornings are cooler and then it warms up in the afternoon and the trees just glisten, it’s really, really pretty,” says Elissa M. Garofalo, President/Executive Director of the non-profit Delaware & Lehigh National Heritage Corridor, Inc. in Easton.

The D&L Trail is the mother trail to other offshoot trails such as the Ironton Rail Trail, the Saucon Township Rail Trail, Palmer Rail Trail and the Nor-Bath Trail. The Ironton Rail Trail was once the home of the Ironton Railroad and follows a beautiful route through parks and historic points of interest on its six-mile loop and three-mile spur. The loop section is paved and passes through a wooded area and along the Coplay Creek, making for great autumnal scenes. The Ironton Rail Trail’s spur portion is a crushed stone surface and passes by sites featuring the area’s cement manufacturing heritage, sure to interest history buffs.

“All these trails are owned by local partners for the most part,” says Garofalo. “It’s a variety of ownership, but it’s owned in a fashion that it can be used for public use.”

Garofalo says that the rail-trails make a community more vibrant and give individuals an opportunity to meet their neighbors. Some people use the trails for commuting to work, such as Dean Hower of Treichlers. Hower is Vice President of Lehigh Township Rails to Trails and Trail Tender Leader and Trail Patrol member for the D&L Trail. While he doesn’t bicycle to work every day, on the days that Hower does ride his bike about seven miles of his commute are done on the D&L Trail and the Ironton Rail Trail.

His advice to other rail-trail enthusiasts: “Bring a lot of water. Gearing up for fall, dress as if it was ten degrees warmer. So dress a little bit lighter.” He also strongly recommends being prepared to fix a flat tire or a broken bike chain, since those are the two most common reasons for a cyclist to break down along the trails.

The rail-trails are a great outdoor resource, literally in the Valley’s backyards. According to a recent user survey and economic impact analysis of the D&L Trail, local residents are the ones primarily using the Central region of the trail running through Lehigh and Northampton counties.

“It’s part of the economic puzzle for the Valley. The folks in the Lehigh Valley are the users and they are spending their money locally,” says Garofalo.

According to the study, of the three regions of the D&L Trail, the Central region survey responders reported spending the most on hard goods such as bicycles, $465.10 per person. Many local bike shops are geared up for this unique bicycling venue and offer organized rides on the area’s rail-trails.

The study also revealed that 46.9 percent of D&L Trail users were cyclists, 29.7 percent were walkers, and 8.2 percent were joggers. Favorite secondary activities included 31.6 percent of people being involved in wildlife viewing and 19.1 percent in bird watching.

The movement to preserve the rail-trails began in 1968 with the National Trails System Act. In 1976, this was strengthened with the Railroad Revitalization Act and Regulatory Reform Act, setting up a Rails-to-Trails Grant Program. Twenty-five years ago when the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy was formed in 1986 there were only a few hundred miles of rail-trail in the United States. In 2011, that number had grown to nearly 20,000 miles of rail-trail used by tens of millions of Americans each year.

“We really need the support of the communities and membership in our organization to continue moving forward. We’re all ‘they’ and have a piece of state ownership in it,” says Garofalo.

For additional information on membership and specific rail-trails, visit delawareandlehigh.org and explorepatrails.com.

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