Friday, January 13, 2017

Crowd Balks at Swamp Creek Trail/Greenway Plan

Photos by Evan Brandt
One of many speakers at last night's public meeting on the possibility of creating a Swamp Creek Greenway and trail from Schwenksville to New Hanover Square Road suggests Sunrise Mill should be restored before any thought is given to building a trail.

The meeting room of the Lower Frederick Township building was a tough place to be Thursday night if you were facing the crowd.

A presentation on the kick-off of a feasibility study looking at the creation of a Greenway and Trail in the Swamp Creek Valley, stretching across 5,000 acres from Schwenksville to New Hanover, drew a capacity crowd to the Lower Frederick Township building Thursday night.

Michael Stokes, assistant director of the Montgomery County
Planning Commission outlines the plans so far.
Not too many of them were there to support the idea of a trail, if the comments were any indication.

Michael Stokes, assistant director of the Montgomery County Planning Commission, doggedly tried to field questions and comments as residents spoke over him, and each other, in their effort to express their skepticism about and outright opposition to the project.

Many said the stream, which empties into Perkiomen Creek less than a half-mile from the township building, the surrounding woods and the wildlife that lives there would be best preserved by leaving it alone.

"There's a conflict between conservation and preservation when you say you want to bust a trail through it all," said Jim Rupert, a 15-year resident of the stream bank and one of the few speakers who took the time to give his name.

He said he has seen quite a bit of wildlife along the creek and those animals are "very sensitive to human activity. It's 100 percent untrue to say putting a trail through there would not be affected."

A resident of Delphi Road says it would be dangerous to put a 
trail along the curved street where there are many accidents.
Others said Montgomery County has enough trails, while many others questioned what their property rights are and whether the county would be taking any of it.

"I won't lie to you, government has the right to take your property for a public purpose, but that is not our intent," Stokes said.

The intent of the meeting was to get input from the community and to outline some very early concepts for what the county is considering. He added that the county already owns about 60 percent of the property that would comprise the greenway and host the trail.

Since 1971, Montgomery County has owned the Sunrise Mill property and it is a key element in the greenway and trail plan.

A photo of Sunrise Mill was used as the first slide in the presentation.
Not currently open to the public, it was built in 1767 and is structurally sound, but it has not been restored inside, said Stokes.

Several speakers suggested public money would be better spent restoring the mill and opening it to the public, rather than conceiving of a trail that is designed to bring people to a historic building they cannot tour.

"You're doing it backwards," said one speaker.

There were a few who spoke favorably about the idea.

One Limerick resident said she uses the Perkiomen Trail regularly and that 77 percent of Montgomery County residents polled view trails favorably, although it seemed evident not too many of those poll-takers were in the room Thursday.

Geoff Creary, from the landscape architecture firm
Simone Collins, 
listens to input from a resident about
the map showing the 
proposed Swamp Creek Greenway
prior to the start of Thursday night's meeting.
Dulcie Flaharty, a member of the Montgomery Planning Commission Board, employee of Natural Lands Trust and longtime open space advocate in the county, said fears about eminent domain are common when a trail is first-proposed.

"Look at where we've done trails already," she said, noting that all but a few of the 200 private property purchases necessary to create the Perkiomen Trail were negotiated sales, and only one lawsuit.

But that did little to convince the crowds and at one point, a voice int he crowd said "it's theft of private property."

Finally, one resident asked Stokes pointedly, if the majority of residents speak out against it, "what are the chances really, that it won't happen?"

"That's why we're here," Stokes replied.

Subsequent public meetings are planned for March and June.

Here are the Tweets as they happened during the meeting.

1 comment:

  1. official notification of the Jan 12 went in the local papers Jan 9!