Friday, June 7, 2013

Easton Planning Commission Supports Extension of Arts Trail

By Christina Georgiou

The yellow line represents the planned extension of the Karl Stirner
Arts Trail through College Hill in Easton.

Extending the Karl Stirner Arts Trail through Easton's College Hill neighborhood got one step closer to becoming a reality Thursday evening with a resolution by the city's planning commission to add the planned walking trail extension to the city's new comprehensive plan.

While the move is the first step toward extending the trail, it will take at least another couple of years to execute, said city planning director Becky Bradley.

The new city comprehensive plan won't be complete until 2014, but the trail plan needs to be on it for further approvals from other agencies for the extension to happen, she said.

"We need to have it on the plan so they can even get started," Bradley told the planning commission.

Other hurdles, such as approvals from PennDOT for places where the trail intersects or runs with state roads, as well as finding funding for construction and trail markers, will also need to be overcome for the extension to become a reality, too.

But the planning commission's approval means fundraising and further planning for the effort can begin, she said.

"We shouldn't focus on the money. This is about the plan," Bradley told commissioners. "You set your goals and then pursue funds."

An approximation of what thenew fountain will look like
when placed in Nevin Park, from the presentation project
coordinator Hubert Etchison gave to the Easton
Planning Commission Thursday evening.

The extension of the trail is part of the College Hill Neighborhood Association's plan to revitalize Nevin Park and replace the cast iron fountain that once graced the recreational area.

Volunteer project coordinator Hubert Etchison recently outlined the plan for both the fountain replacement and the group's hopes to extend the pedestrian trail to city council, and the project was promised financial support from the city after it was announced that the committee working on the years-long project had reached a significant fundraising goal, enabling it to be able to commit to purchasing a stylistically appropriate replacement cast-iron fountain.

The fountain will likely be installed in Nevin Park within a year, those connected with the project have estimated, but making the trail extension a reality will take much longer.

"There are massive permitting hurdles to make this happen," Bradley said. "But that's part of the job--what are the hurdles and how do we make it happen."

The trail extension is designed to connect walkers with a more sylvan connection with the rest of the city, as well as highlight Nevin Park and local history, Etchison said.

While the second segment of the project will take much more time--as well as money--to complete, the citizen's group is committed to making it a reality.

"We're not going to finish this fountain and then set up a hammock," he told the planning commission. "We're pretty pumped...We're trying to go beyond 'this is going to be a really cool fountain.' There are some really great opportunities to dial it up from that."

Trail markers highlighting area history, along with a narration of events and places that will be accessible via a smartphone, likely to be completed by local students and non-profit organizations, are to be incorporated into the path, Etchison said.

A full estimate of what adding the trail will cost is not yet complete, but the money to complete the project is expected to come from various state and federal grant sources, both Etchison and city officials have said.

"The historic significance of the things along the (Route) 611 part of this are amazing, and we haven't even started on the Cattell Street side of this," Etchison said.

The trail extension will connect with the existing Karl Stirner Arts Trail at the base of College Hill on North Third Street and form a loop, which would give walkers two ways to scale the steep slope--one directly up the hill, and the other, a longer route that is less strenous that veers toward the river. The trail would incorporated Nevin Park in the middle.

Whether the trail extension will still be named "Karl Stirner" is uncertain though, as Bradley and Etchison said it would be advantageous for fundraising purposes to leave naming possibilities undetermined for now.

"It could be 'give us the money guy' trail," Bradley said.

But whatever it's ultimately named, the plan will further enhance the city, she said.

"I think it's completely sound and smart and reasonable, what they're trying to do," Bradley said. "It's wonderful to have community members to come to the city with ideas of what they want."

The planning commission voted unanimously in favor of the resolution.

"I don't think there's any question but that we support it," said Easton Planning Commission Chairman Charles Elliot.

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