By Rick Dandes
The Daily Item
NORTHUMBERLAND — Point Township officials will try to raise $30,000 to receive a matching grant and begin a long-term project to build a roughly 12-mile North Branch canal trail to Danville.
The project, which will cost millions of dollars and take up to 10 years to complete, was the brainstorm of Ann August, president of 17857.org, which promotes positive activities in Northumberland and Point Township.
August, of Northumberland, was working for the Susquehanna Greenways Partnership in 2007 when a comprehensive plan to connect and promote river towns and regional parks was completed.
The canal system was chosen as a demonstration project for the Greenway Partnership. As part of that demonstration, a feasibility study for a North Branch canal trail was completed in May 2009. It focused on a portion of the canal from Danville to Catawissa and on to Bloomsburg.
However, the plan for the North Branch canal trail ultimately would connect Northumberland to Danville, Bloomsburg and Berwick.
“The idea was floating around in my head for years, that we should develop the Point Township-to-Danville section of the canal trail,” August said. “I knew that local people liked to walk for exercise, so I wondered what I would have to do to get this canal trail project started around here.”
When she learned that Randy Yoxheimer, Point Township supervisors chairman, was interested in supporting the project, August started piecing together a plan.
August was encouraged by officials at the state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources to apply for a grant. She will submit a grant application for a feasibility study by the April 10 deadline, she said.
A feasibility study costs $60,000. DCNR will match that with $30,000 if $30 is raised locally, either through donations or other grants.
“You can’t put together a project like this without first doing a complex feasibility study,” August said.
The study will determine whether there is enough of the canal left to create a trail; whether landowners favor the trail; the best route; challenges; funding possibilities; project phases; and cost estimates.
“I wanted to do this because I feel like this area has a lot to offer,” August said. “There is history here. And wonderful scenery. And, having such a trail would bring business to the area as it would be within a short distance of Liberty Splashland and soccer fields, for instance.”
August would like to see a trail around the confluence of the North and West branches of the Susquehanna River and over to the Priestley Bridge, “basically because we are building an erosion barrier there and that makes for the perfect opportunity to put a trail on it.”
There is really no canal until you get to the end of Priestley Avenue.
That’s where it starts, in my mind,” August said.
The borough of Northumberland will be a partner in the project.
“Point Township and the borough agree this is a good thing, although it is Point Township that has pledged to put up the initial $30,000,” August said.
August said she won’t know whether Point Township will receive the grant until November. Until then, she plans on raising the cash.
Individuals, groups or companies interested in donating can visit 17857.org to learn how.
“We will need people on a steering committee, running the project,” August said. “The process also calls for public meetings and key person interviews, all part of the feasibility study. I’ll need public input as well.”