Monday, February 6, 2012

Cynwyd Trail

The Cynwyd station--end of the line for active rail service

Kali and I explored a new urban trail on a cool, damp and cloudy Saturday afternoon this weekend--the Cynwyd Heritage Trail.  This trail was created when one of the regional rail lines serving Philadelphia was discontinued.  The rails were removed and the trail was created in their place.

The trail, completed in May 2011, consists of two parallel paths, one paved for bicyclists and in-line skaters, and one of earth for runners (though the soil seemed so hard-packed that I think it would hurt my knees as a runner just as much as the asphalt path would).

A amphitheater-like turnout on the running path

The trail runs through a completely built-out, very wealthy section of an inner ring-Philadelphia suburb.  As such, it was getting a lot of use even on a rather dreary Saturday afternoon.  Dog walkers were abundant.

Currently the trail is two miles long, though it's possible to continue walking in a neighboring cemetery through which the municipality has negotiated an access easement.  In the summer of 2013, the trail will be extended across a railroad bridge spanning the Schuylkill River and into the hip Manayunk neighborhood in the city of Philadelphia.  
The bridge that will link the Cynwyd Trail to Manayunk in 2013
View from the Cynwyd Trail across the Schuylkill Expressway and Schuylkill River into 
Manayunk, once factory worker housing and now a hipster haunt

Once that connection is made, Cynwyd Trail users will also have easy access to the 20-mile-long Schuylkill Trail linking central Philadelphia with Valley Forge National Historical Park, and an additional 20-mile-loing trail following the Perkiomen Creek, a major Schuylkill River tributary.
Right now, the Cynwyd Trail is pretty "raw" since it was completed so recently, but it will age well as the municipality continues to invest in upgrading the amenities and planting trees along the route. 

Severely tilted metamorphic bedrock along the trail--evidence of past collisions between North America and Africa

The natural world still hangs on along portions of the route


Grizz………… said...

It will be kind of interesting watching this trail become a sort of nature corridor through an otherwise urban area, though I'm not sure how that dual-path idea will hold up long-term. I've not seen the idea before. "Cynwyd" sounds Welch to me—can that be right for the Philly area? And if so, would it be because of the early coal miners? (Lots of Welch influence out on Michigan's U.P., especially the Keweenaw, because of the copper mines.)

Scott said...

Grizz: Yeah, the parallel paved/dirt trails, at least formally designated as such, were a pretty new concept to me, too. Most places only have room (and money) for a single trail, but this municipality has splurged.

Of course, there are many paved trails around (at least around here) where runners have beat an informal dirt path alongside the paved path thinking it will be less strain on their knees (and maybe to have an alternative to bicycles whizzing by).

With regard to the name, there are many, many Welsh place names around Philadelphia (in addition to a lot of English place names). According to the official history of our county:

The community that became known as Bala-Cynwyd was settled in 1682 by Edward Jones and 17 families of Welsh Quakers. The community was originally called Merionville. John Roberts (head of one of the families, and a malt-maker) founded a local dynasty that remained prominent in the area.

Some time after 1880, the Pennsylvania Railroad ran the rail line that is now the Cynwyd Trail through Merionville and established 3 stops. The wife of the president of the railroad, George Roberts, a descendent of the original founding John Roberts, was invited to name the stations. She chose Bala, Barmouth, and Cynwyd for ancestral places in Wales. The community then abandoned Merionville and chose to go by the far more interesting name Bala-Cynwyd.

I'm glad you asked about this; I'd always been curious myself but never took the time to research the origin.

packrat said...

I was going to ask about the name, too, Scott, but since you covered it in your response to Grizz, I'm now satisfied. But about that cemetery the trail cuts through: does it have a fence around it because of the number of people who are dying to get in?

Scott said...

Packrat: Actually, there IS a fence around the cemetery. When Kali and I got to what we thought was the end of the easement though the cemetery, we ran into a locked gate and had to retrace our steps. Don't know if it's to keep out the people who are dying to get in or the dead from trying to get out, though, smart alek!

Furthermore, the trail divides snakes between TWO cemeteries, one on either side of the trail. I guess that the cemeteries' founders thought that the dead would like the view over the Schuylkill River.

Cynthia M. said...

I love hearing about green initiatives in urban areas. We have a similar rail-trail in the works through the city of Fitchburg, MA near me. Like this project, the initial trail is pretty short - and runs through some pretty urban areas - but the potential for linking it up with longer trails and eventually connecting it with other communities is there. I haven't check in on the progress of that trail in a while - your article reminded me to do so!

BTW, how do you pronounce "Cynwyd"? With a soft (s) or hard (k) C? What a beautiful word!

Scott said...

Cynthia: Thanks for stopping by. Once the Cynwyd Trail is extended across the Schuylkill River into the city of Philadelphia, the trail could be further extended along a continuation of the unused rail line, just as you were describing. And, as I mentioned in my post, the trail will link to the existing 20-mile Schuylkill Trail and, from there, to the existing 20-mile Perkiomen Trail.

Cynwyd (a lovely word--I agree) is with a hard C, like KIN-wid.

George T. Manos said...

Scott - Thanks for the terrific review and for researching the history of the trail and the name.

West Laurel Hill Cemetery - the one to which you refer - is generally open from dawn to dusk, so the gate may have been closed at the time you arrived at it. West Laurel Hill has an incredible 13 miles of paths in it, and invites all to walk through it, as it is a gorgeous national historic landmark - actually an arboretum - and thus expands the trail experience in an unexpected and visually spectacular way. It has been a fabulous supporter of the trail as well.

The other cemetery is Westminster cemetery, from which the Township acquired approximately three acres as design visioning of the trail was beginning. That, plus the purchase of another property - known as the Spaventa property - plus the donation of the 8-acre Connolly site by resident and former owner Tom Connolly, made possible the widening of the trail into a "linear park" (the trail's official designation).

That also made it possible to split the walking trail from the hard-surface trail, which follows along under the catenary supports for the power lines that remain. The walking trail thus meanders away from the bike trail and follows along Vine Creek, a tributary of the Schuylkill River.

This, plus the topography that separates the two trails gives that section of the walking trail a sense of seclusion and peacefulness that is one of the real treasures and unique features of the park. Even though the bike trail is only 10 to 20 yards away, when on the walking trail one does not know it is there, so cyclists and walkers can both use and enjoy the trail without having to dodge each other, as is often the case with combined trails.

The Connolly portion has not been developed yet as part of the park but it is accessible from the main trail via a narrow offshoot that is marked by a "Proceed At Your Own Risk" warning sign. When it is completed (date presently unknown), it will add yet another dimension to the experience of the trail since it leads right to the Schuylkill River.

Stay tuned, one day there will be more to come . . .