Congratulations to the 2021 Great Places in PA Award Winners!
The Pennsylvania Chapter of the American Planning Association is proud to announce the 2021 Great Places in PA. Great Places are unique, memorable places that display a wealth of best practices in community planning, serve as a community focal point, and strengthen the local economy. They also demonstrate the rewarding results that occur through planning, partnerships, and community engagement.
For 2021, eight Great Places were designated among three categories: Great Greenways/Trail (5), Great Public Spaces (2), and Great Streets (1). There are now 46 designated “Great Places in PA” located in 28 of the Commonwealth’s 67 counties.
A Great Greenway/Trail is linear parcel of land or right-of-way set aside to preserve/protect open space, scenic landscapes, historical resources, natural resources, and plant/animal habitats. It is easily accessible, serves to connect people and places, and is used by people of all ages. A great greenway/trail is an economic generator for communities and is often a focal point for social events and festivals that bring people together. The 2021 Great Greenways/Trails include the following.
The Cherry Creek Crossing Trail Network, located in Smithfield Township and Delaware Water Gap Borough, Monroe County, includes 3-miles of trails brought to fruition through a partnership between the municipalities and the Delaware River Joint Toll Bridge Commission. The planning process involved community involvement and resulted in a trail designed for shared use by pedestrians, bicyclists, and persons using other non-motorized modes of transportation. There was also a clear focus on preserving the environment by using innovative stepping stones to cross the stream and kiosks with interpretive materials to promote protection of the Delaware Watershed. With many access points and connections to downtown Delaware Water Gap, the Appalachian Trail, the PA Welcome Center, and regional transit, the trail attracts a diverse array of users. With a maintenance strategy in place and plans to expand environmental education features, the Cherry Creek Crossing Trail Network will continue to be a viable asset to the communities from both a recreation and economic standpoint.
Lackawanna River Heritage Trail, connects more than 30 communities as it stretches more than 70 miles through the heart of the Lackawanna Heritage Valley State and National Heritage Area. It travels along the Lackawanna River and through the Northeastern PA mountains showcasing the areas culture, history, architecture, and natural landscapes and providing connections to parks, neighborhoods, and community amenities. Thousands of people annually use the trail for walking, biking, hiking, running, cross-country skiing, and snowshoeing. Additionally, the Lackawanna Heritage Valley Association works with communities to implement trail improvements and with planning committees to host events that attract people from all areas of the country. It also partners with the Lackawanna River Conservation Association to sustain the trail and engage local communities to participate in service days. The Lackawanna River Heritage Trail is an asset to the entire region that is helping to sustain local communities and promote healthy lifestyles.
Lehigh Parkway in Allentown and neighboring Salisbury Township, Lehigh County, is a 542-acre linear greenway along the Little Lehigh Creek connecting the urbanized areas of the two communities. Popular attractions are fishing and disc golf plus, with over six miles of trails, walkers, bikers, runners, and horseback riders are frequent users. Multiple trail heads are available to access the trails and adjacent activity centers. The Parkway showcases the area’s history through stone bank barns, an 1841 covered bridge, and the Museum of Indian Culture, as well as interpretive signage and historic markers. It also has “green” features to protect the environment. Numerous events, attracting thousands of visitors, are annually hosted in the Parkway. This regional hub for outdoor recreation is an economic driver and there is a strong commitment to sustain it through partnerships and philanthropic efforts.
The Phoenixville Portion of the Schuylkill River Trail, located in Chester County, is a small urban trail section of the larger Schuylkill River trail system. It provides a connection to the Borough’s downtown, neighborhoods, and recreation areas. Notable amenities include benches, water bottle fill and bike fix-it stations, exercise equipment, and a butterfly pollinator garden. Frequent users include walkers, runners, and bicyclists of all ages, as well as cross country skiers in the winter. The Phoenixville portion is host to a variety of events, from a Saturday Farmers Market to 5k run/walks. The adjacent Schuylkill River Heritage Center and Point at River Works offer historical displays for trail users to learn about the local heritage. A wayfinding signage system directs residents and visitors to significant landmarks and trail heads. The Borough has engaged with many partners to develop and sustain this important community asset, which benefits the local economy and quality of life.
The Warwick to Ephrata Rail Trail (WERT) connects five northeastern Lancaster County communities. This 7.2 mile regional trail travels through many landscapes, from farmland, woodlands, and rural villages to historic urban neighborhoods and downtowns. With multiple trailheads/access points, it is accessible to thousands of residents. Besides recreational use, the trail is a popular and safe alternative transportation route between Ephrata, Akron, and Lititz Boroughs for walking/biking to school, work, and downtown destinations. Many charity bike rides, marathons, and other events occur on the trail. Among the amenities are restrooms, solar powered pedestrian crossing lights, bike share, access point electric charging stations, and handicap accessibility. The five municipalities formed the WERT Committee, and coordinated with the community and other partners, to oversee trail planning, construction, and ongoing maintenance. The WERT is a prime example of the success that can result from intergovernmental cooperation, partnerships, and community engagement. This success is demonstrated not only in trail usage, but also the economic activity it has stimulated.
A Great Public Space is a vibrant place that fosters a sense of community through people of all ages gathering to play, socialize, enjoy a meal or concert, relax, or just enjoy the outdoors. It is a focal point for community events, which bring people together and bolster the economy. Below are the 2021 Great Public Spaces.
Jim Dietrich Park in Muhlenberg Township, Berks County, consisting of 109 acres and bordered by the Schuylkill River, was originally a working farm. The Township purchased the land from the Dietrich family, who wanted it developed for recreation in honor of their son. A Master Site Plan, completed in 2007, has been guiding development of the Park, while also protecting its natural resources. Today, enhancements include pavilions, sports fields/courts, a dog park, water trail landings, and parking areas. The landing areas provide canoers, kayakers, and others with access to the Schuylkill River Water Trail. Jim Dietrich Park is heavily used for both active and passive recreation. It is also host to a variety of events and festivals that attract thousands of local and regional visitors. The Township continues to develop this Park to meet the diverse needs of its residents and to maintain it as a vital asset that contributes to the local economy, as well as the vibrancy of the community.
Lions Pride Park in Warrington Township, Bucks County, consists of 47 acres and is within one of the Township’s greenways. The Park resulted from extensive community involvement, including students, and a partnership between the Township and Lions Club. This unique, ADA compliant park offers both traditional and nature based recreational and educational opportunities for visitors of all ages and abilities. Among the popular children’s attractions is Kids Mountain, an area for creative free play and winter sledding, that is planted with native species and pollinator plants along the climbing area. For adults, the Grove provides a place to relax and socialize. There is also an array of visual, audio, tactile, and sensory experiences throughout the Park, including a beacon phone application and a music alcove. Usage at Lions Pride Park has continued to grow, resulting in a positive impact on the local economy and quality of life. It provides “a safe and fun place for everyone to play and relax.”
A Great Street comprises the entire three-dimensional visual corridor, including the public realm and how it relates to adjacent land uses. It is important for local businesses and helps to create a sense of community. Special emphasis is placed on “complete” streets that service and take into account all users, whether auto, pedestrian, bicycle, or transit. The 2021 Great Street is described below.
Butler Street in Etna Borough, Allegheny County, has transformed into an attractive, pedestrian friendly, multi-modal street that is bustling with activity. This 21-block corridor is home to a variety of boutiques, restaurants, art galleries, specialty food shops, and niche stores. Implementation of a Green Master Plan and Complete Streets Policy resulted in tree plantings, rain gardens, bicycle racks, benches, and other streetscape improvements that increase sustainability and social interaction. Butler Street hosts a variety of events that bring the community together and attract visitors from throughout the region. Partnerships with Active Allegheny and Etna Economic Development Corporation have contributed to the economic vitality. Butler Street, with its cultural flavor, thriving businesses, walkability, “green” practices, and community engagement, enhances the quality of life in Etna Borough.
In recognizing the 2021 Great Places, APA PA also celebrates the many community leaders and officials, professionals, and residents who contributed to making these places “great.” A special thank-you is also extended to the dedicated panel of judges that volunteer their time to review and rate the nominations, as well as select the Great Places.
When traveling or seeking adventure, consider visiting PA’s “Great Places.” More information about the 2021 Great Places and previously designated Great Places is available on the website.
A special thanks to our 2021 Great Places judges
Chair of Great Places Initiative: Pam Shellenberger, AICP, York County Planning Commission
PA Downtown Center, Executive Director
Save Our Land, Save Our Towns Inc., Founder
Lisa Kunst Vavro, RLA, ASLA
Penn State Center, Sustainable Communities & Engaged Scholarship Manager (retired)
Kate McMahon, AICP
NEPA Alliance, Senior Transportation Services Manager
David Schwartz, PE, AICP, PP
Northwest Commission, Regional Planning Manager
Jim Segedy, FAICP
The Planning Guild, Community Planning & Design Director
Gannett Fleming (retired)
Stay tuned for the opportunity to nominate Great Places in 2022. It’s not too soon to start thinking about great places to nominate in your community. The categories will be Great Greenways/Trails and Great Public Spaces.