Shoring up the Gorge Trail

Behrend Sustainability Director, Dr. Sherri "Sam" Mason, shows off the new boardwalk in Wintergreen Gorge

Behrend Sustainability Director, Dr. Sherri "Sam" Mason, shows off the new boardwalk in Wintergreen Gorge.

Credit: Penn State Behrend


On the new boardwalk in Wintergreen Gorge—165 feet of compressed bamboo decking, set just south of the Cooper Road trailhead—Dr. Sherri “Sam” Mason, sustainability coordinator for Penn State Behrend, explained how it’s possible to protect a natural area by inviting more people to explore it.

“Having access to natural spaces affects us in so many ways,” Mason said. “There’s a physical benefit, but there also are mental and emotional components, and those factor in to how we connect with a place. When we feel that connection, we want to protect the place.”

The boardwalk is part of a $690,000 effort to stabilize the trail system in the gorge, a designated Natural Heritage Area on and adjacent to campus. Funding for the project, which began in 2013, was provided by the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development, the Erie County Department of Planning and Community Development and Penn State.

The college has maintained Wintergreen Gorge as a public resource, but foot and bicycle traffic have eroded the natural environment.

A half-mile stretch of the Cooper Road trail has been topped with a compacted aggregate surface, making it ADA-accessible. Aggregate is more permeable than asphalt but provides a surface firm enough for strollers, and even wheelchairs. The trail project created several new rain gardens, which will filter runoff from the Bayfront Connector. It also expanded the parking area at the Cooper Road trailhead and provided for educational signage.

The college has secured $380,000 in funding for the next phase of the trail project, which will extend the aggregate-topped path to Trout Run. That work is expected to begin in the fall of 2021.

“We need some time to see how this first phase improves things, particularly in regard to the water coming off the Bayfront Connector,” Mason said. “We’ll make adjustments, and we’ll develop a plan that further improves public access to the gorge while protecting the natural environment for the generations that follow us.”