Rails to Trails Ideas Presented by PSU Students – Morrisons Cove Herald

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Williamsburg Correspondent 
November 10, 2022
Natalie Gorsuch
PSU senior Maeve Fogarty presents to the audience at the Williamsburg Public Library last Tuesday afternoon. Fogarty, amongst other seniors, presented their projects headed up by professor Alec Spangler. Fogarty worked on using technology to increase participation along trail lines for historical context.
The Williamsburg Public Library hosted Penn State landscape architecture students last Tuesday, Nov. 1. Students from a landscape architecture class taught by Alec Spangler presented ideas on addressing different aspects of the town.
The beginning
The relationship between Penn State University and the town of Williamsburg started in early 2020 when Sustainable Communities Collaborative Program Manager Ilona Ballreich met with Greg Williams and Dave Cadle. The purpose of the Sustainability Institute is to pair Penn State classes with community partners.
“The idea is to garner data, get informed and allow the community to make better decisions,” Ballreich said.
During the fall of the COVID pandemic, Ballreich and her team questioned, “What’s this going to look like helping Williamsburg?”
Ballreich and her team discussed the idea of Rails to Trails and the potential the “trailtown” lifestyle brought. The team from Penn State also explored solar energy, but Ballreich still focused on items such as health impacts of the trail, landscape architecture and the issue of signage.
PSU also helped Williamsburg complete a stormwater assessment in spring of this year.
“I’m hoping that we can continue the relationship with Williamsburg ­- it’s great to see the interest and the potential,” Ballreich said.
Ballreich also connected Professor Alec Spangler with community residents last year to gain ideas about how residents of Williamsburg saw the town and what they’d like to see changed.
“This was about meeting people, gathering ideas. There is no lack of ideas here,” Spangler said.
The students in the landscape architecture class met with several Williamsburg residents and toured Williamsburg many times before they were asked to pick a different aspect of the town and present ideas as part of their grade.
Ideas presented
Andrew Knerr spoke about the newly acquired property of the borough, specifically the ash pile near the old power plant where ash waste was dumped on soil.
Knerr spoke of first talks to remove hill, but then swayed from that decision following discussion with residents and potential costs. He also considered a “lookout spot” for the trail.
“We want to optimize the trail experience,” Knerr said.
He added that there would be potential for solar-powered energy there as well. Jennifer Hoffman, who lives near the ash pile, said she has always had concerns about the ash coming into the air and acknowledged Knerr’s plan as a good solution to the problem.
Williams echoed that same sentiment.
“I think it’s a brilliant idea – especially with the updated solar installations with wildflowers underneath,” Williams said. “I also love the idea of a trail loop.”
Senior John Hurlburt discussed the class spending half of a semester researching the community and exploring the hidden assets, noting the proximity of state parks and Raystown to our town. He discussed the idea of using the ash pile and the land nearby as a potential for campsites or a community gathering space.
“Using it for bike packing trips, this is positioned ideally,” Hurlburt said. “It gives the idea of seclusion.”
Mike Biddle, of Biddle’s Brewing and SPUR LLC, liked this idea.
“A designated space for concerts would be great,” Biddle said. “It would give a platform to artists and musicians from our town.”
Senior Maia Egan spoke about how a park would help with flooding, as it will not wash away, is something that supports drainage, brings in native plants and establishes resilience for the area.
Senior Mary Thornton added on to Egan’s plan when talking about the idea of bringing in youth and family to Williamsburg. An idea she thought of was using the land acquired by the Borough across from Cenveo for a manned skate park for children and youth. Thornton also wanted to form a more “cohesive park” by connecting Riverside Park and the land across from Cenveo with some ideas such as an interactive meadow, community garden and a potential river overlook.
Senior Maeve Fogarty wanted her project to take a look at “historic preservation in a modern way,” by using augmented reality.
She noted that the popularity of something like Pokemon Go! would be a great example of augmented reality. Her project would entail signage at different lines of the historic towpath, canal and railroad in Williamsburg.
Last, both seniors Evee Sarkissan and Alex Gerszberg talked about signage in Williamsburg. Sarkissan looked more at unified signage in town and the idea of a community plaza. She brought examples of where Lower Trail Creamery and the trailhead are and talked about that being a community plaza, but that would lose the parking for Rails to Trails. Gerszberg talked about more shrubbery along the main streets in town – High, 1st and 2nd and more of a town square definition.
“I thought the presentations were well thought-out, creative and very practical,” Biddle said. “It’s amazing to have a professor like Mr. Spangler that is dedicated to making a difference in the community. Williamsburg has lots of opportunity, but we need to help bring those opportunities to life for everyone to experience and enjoy – this class is helping make that a possibility.”
“I thought the PSU students did a wonderful job of presenting some new and interesting perspectives on the possibilities for enhancing Williamsburg and the Lower Trail in mutually beneficial ways,” Williams said. “The presentation really opened my eyes to the possibility of creating a Williamsburg trail loop that offers a series of routes for riding or walking through Williamsburg, seeing our historical and cultural highlights, and perhaps, supporting our local businesses.”
The students will be presenting their final presentations at 6:30 p.m. at the Community Center, Williamsburg, on Dec. 6.

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