The river towns of Columbia and Marietta are showing signs of “embracing a new economy based on outdoor recreation and anchored to the riverfront through improved access to the Susquehanna River and the 14-mile Northwest Lancaster County River Trail,” LNP | LancasterOnline’s outdoor writer Ad Crable noted on Sunday. “Since 2010, the State Department of Conservation and Natural Resources has committed $31 million to efforts in Lancaster and York counties. Their main partner is the Lancaster Conservancy, which has protected about 6,200 acres in the two counties on either side of the river and is eyeing another 5,000 acres.”
The Susquehanna River is a tremendous asset but is often treated as an afterthought in Lancaster County.
Amish attractions, Lancaster City’s restaurants and art galleries, the outlets – that’s what often draws people here.
Now we begin to see how the modern possibilities offered by the Susquehanna are realized. As Cable detailed, the presence of the Northwest Lancaster County River Trail is vital to the economies of Columbia and Marietta.
River Trail Brewing, a pub and seafood restaurant, opened on Marietta’s Front Street last year. The owner of McCleary’s Pub in Marietta and his business partner buy up buildings on Market Street near the trail and rent them out to small businesses, including an art gallery, a pottery shop and a jewelry shop.
“With the trail, we have more businesses and more people,” Marietta Mayor Rebecca Carroll-Baltozer told Crable. “Having people going to the trail and exercising is good for a sense of togetherness in the community.”
This applies to Marietta and Columbia.
Columbia’s “long-shuttered train station is now an ice cream parlor and coffeehouse that serves approximately 250,000 people annually who walk across the railroad tracks to the $3 million Columbia Crossing River Trails Center and River Park,” Cable wrote. And the “Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission is seeing more boaters and anglers on the river and using their boat launches.”
That was the vision when this part of Lancaster and York counties was declared a Susquehanna National Heritage Area in 2019.
As Crable noted in a previous column, the Northwest Lancaster County River Trail “has been tremendously popular since it opened in 2014. And for a good reason. It’s a beautiful walk along the river with attractions as varied as Chickies Rock, the White Cliffs of Conoy, remains of great iron furnaces, canal locks, an eagle’s nest, and the river towns of Columbia and Marietta.”
Lancaster cyclists typically headed east; Now they have an exciting option out west. The section of the trail that winds under the arching Shocks Mill Bridge offers the kind of vistas that used to only be enjoyed once you’ve traveled beyond Lancaster County.
“People are looking for nature like never before. It’s an incredible economic engine,” said Fritz Schroeder of the Lancaster Conservancy at a recent summit of the Susquehanna Riverlands Conservation Landscape, a regional initiative aimed at cultivating open spaces, managing natural resources and promoting sustainable economic development through heritage and the outdoors – Stimulate tourism in Lancaster-York counties.
Lori Yeich, recreation and conservation manager for the state’s Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, added: “We’re investing in a landscape here. We invest in a place.”
In a broader sense, it means an investment in people – a welcome, necessary investment.
In an address to the Columbia Economic Development Corporation earlier this month, Yeich said if you create opportunities for outdoor recreation, “and you have a business community that supports that too, and you create jobs — that’s quality of life.” Those are the reasons people want to come to Columbia and Marietta and Wrightsville.”
These benefits can be particularly attractive to the workers that district employers must attract and retain. Workers don’t want to drive long distances to drive or hike a scenic riverside trail.
Crable noted that access to hiking and biking trails ranked third in a recent study of the top considerations people make when choosing where to live.
And even more opportunities for economic growth along the riverbank are in the works.
– The proposed $60 million renovation of the Columbia-Wrightsville Bridge will add bike and pedestrian paths to connect the Northwest Lancaster County River Trail with its new Riverfront Park and a connection to the 200-mile Mason-Dixon Trail to Wrightsville extend.
Columbia has raised $2.75 million in grants for a $5.5 million Columbia River Park expansion that will include a 700-person amphitheater, gazebo, pier into the Susquehanna and the Promoting the district’s role in the history of the Underground Railroad and the Civil War will include.
“The trail puts Columbia on the map as a destination,” said Bill Kloidt, executive director of the Columbia Economic Development Corporation.
We couldn’t be happier about it. Columbia’s economy has struggled in the past and its small school district remains underfunded, but this riverside district is a gem.
– Three years after its efforts to maximize its proximity to the Susquehanna, Columbia sees the conversion of two historic hotel buildings into apartments and the conversion of a former potato chip factory into a rooftop hotel with river views. Visitors drawn to the area by the river trail also visit the small shops, farmers market, and cultural sites of Colombia.
Given the impact the first few months of the pandemic have had on the restaurant industry, we were particularly heartened to read this from Cable: “A popular restaurant on the verge of closure found new life among walkers after bike racks outside and a Added fallback drink fountains.”
A “real transformation”
We’ve often complained about the use of taxpayers’ money for frivolous spending, but the state’s investment in outdoor recreation in Columbia and Marietta appears to have been a sensible and productive bet.
“For so long we thought outdoor recreation just grew in the woods like trees and it was something we could achieve if we had extra time and money at the end of the year,” said Nathan Reigner, DCNR’s first outdoor director Recreation. “There is a growing recognition that like all our other industries, it needs investment and support from government, and that’s what we’re trying to do about it.”
We are happy to see it. And we commend the Lancaster Conservancy for their partnership in this effort.
More conserved land. More accessible and prosperous communities. More access to the outside. More opportunities for local businesses. Everyone hails the Northwest Lancaster County River Trail.
Of course, that’s not the only avenue aimed at improving the quality of life in Lancaster County.
A project initiated by the Steinman Foundation and the Little Conestoga Creek Foundation, implemented with support from public and private partners, includes miles of trails connecting walkers and cyclists to parks and other open spaces, as well as to services and businesses in Lancaster City and the nearby areas situated suburbs. (The Steinman Foundation is a local, independent family foundation funded by the companies that make up Steinman Communications; such companies include the LNP Media Group.)
And the popular Enola Low Grade Rail Trail was enhanced with the June opening of the former Safe Harbor Trestle Bridge — described by Cable as “a stunning river feature that is expected to become a national attraction” — and the October opening of the Martic Railroad Trestle forge
Officials plan to construct an elevated ramp that will allow direct access to Quarryville from this rail line.
“I see it as a real transformation for us. We’ve seen it in other places, and there’s no reason it can’t happen here,” said Scott Peiffer, Quarryville district manager.
We hope so.
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