The Buffalo Valley Rail Trail is coming to campus, offering Bucknell University students even easier access to the shops, restaurants, parks and other amenities of historic downtown Lewisburg.
Find Your Path
The borough of Lewisburg in May received a $1 million grant from the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation that will help extend the rail trail and support beautification around Bull Run Creek, which runs through the heart of the community.
Opened in 2011, the bike and walking trail rambles through 9.5 miles of idyllic countryside, passing the occasional farm market and ice cream stand on the way to the neighboring town of Mifflinburg and its shops, restaurants and taverns. In 2015, an extension project brought the trail across State Route 15 and into downtown Lewisburg, where it currently terminates at Market Street between Fifth and Sixth streets. The new extension will deliver trail-users to Bucknell's doorstep, running across Market Street, through Hufnagle Park, over a new pedestrian bridge traversing Bull Run Creek, and onto Sixth Street near Vedder Hall.
'An Asset to Bucknell'
Greg Caso '18, who founded and was president of the Bucknell Bison Running Club, started running the trail in his first year at Bucknell, and continued using it right up to his graduation. He said shortening the distance between the trail and campus should boost the number of students who take advantage of it.
"It's one of my favorite places to train, and is really great at the start of the year for the running club," Caso said. "It's straight, easy to navigate, and gives us the time to run at our own paces and also talk and get to know one another.
"It's definitely an asset to Bucknell," he added. "Not only do people run on the trail, but lots of people also use it as a bike path to go out with friends and enjoy the outdoors. Plus, you see your classmates, professors and community members — all on the trail."
Bucknell's Outdoor Education & Leadership office organizes trips along the trail and encourages students to explore on their own through programs like its Bison Bikes bike-share. Director Tony Stafford said the program makes nearly 100 bikes available for free, semester-long rentals and a smaller number for short-term leases and field trips. His office is working with Bucknell Facilities to make campus even more bike-friendly, he added.
Andrew Schlicht '20, former president and now race manager for the Bucknell Cycling Team, also called the trail "a good starting point" for riders who are new to cycling or to the area, and said he hopes that extending the trail will encourage more students to get out and explore the region around campus.
"The route takes you past beautiful Mennonite farms," Schlicht said. "It's a beautiful area to experience and see, and having the trail connected to campus would allow more people to see a part of the area they normally don't."
Even for those who don't make the full journey to Mifflinburg, the trail extension will offer a convenient and attractive link between the University and the heart of Lewisburg, noted Lewisburg Borough Manager Bill Lowthert. "If you have a choice of walking along a nice, wooded path versus a sidewalk on the street, you're going to choose the nice wooded path," he said.
Lowthert added that "Bucknell has been a great partner in this," and that members of the University community, including many students, offered input on the extension plan. Bucknell also contributed $20,000 toward the local match portion of the project's funding, much of which will underwrite tree planting.
A Real-world Case Study
In addition to recreation, the rail trail also provides Bucknell students with opportunities for scholarship and research. Students have created award-winning digital story maps of the trail, examined how it contributes to the health and well-being of the region, and even helped lay the groundwork for the extension project.
"The Buffalo Valley Rail Trail has served as an exceptional educational opportunity and has led to a number of real-world transportation engineering projects at Bucknell," said Professor Michelle Beiler, civil & environmental engineering, who has overseen three different senior design projects related to the trail. "The trail serves as an essential case study for these research projects and has resulted in five journal publications, all including undergraduate students at Bucknell. As the trail expands, it will continue to serve as a fundamental local asset for civil engineering students."
Design work on the trail extension and other aspects of the project is slated to begin soon, and construction is anticipated to wrap up by summer 2020.