ERIE, Pa. — With a ribbon-cutting and a short walk on the new bamboo boardwalk, Penn State Behrend formally opened the renovated trail system in Wintergreen Gorge, a Natural Heritage Area on and adjacent to the Behrend campus.
The college recently completed a $690,000 trail improvement project, which will reduce erosion in the gorge while maintaining public access to the property, which is now ADA-accessible for the first time.
“The gorge is a public resource,” Penn State Behrend Chancellor Ralph Ford said. “We want to protect it for the generations that will use it in the future.”
Funding for the trail 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 Planning Department and Penn State.
The improvements include a 165-foot boardwalk, which extends the primary trail over a wet area. The structure will encourage visitors to remain on the trail, which is the spine of a 14-mile network of informal “shortcut” paths, many of which have accelerated erosion in the gorge.
The primary trail has been topped with a compacted aggregate, making it accessible to visitors with strollers, or even wheelchairs.
“Being part of a community means you think about others as well as yourself,” said Sherri “Sam” Mason, the sustainability coordinator at Penn State Behrend. “Our students have good access to the gorge, but we want everyone else to enjoy it, too. That includes people with mobility issues.
“There are so few green spaces that offer this level of accessibility,” she said.
The project also created a new trailhead at Cooper Road, where a parking area now offers space for 17 vehicles. Additional parking is available at the Ohio Hall and School of Science trailheads on the Behrend campus.
The college has secured $380,00 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.”