Montgomery County

Booming Boroughs, Trashing Trails in Montgomery County

It's a tale of two Montgomery Counties these days, with new developments helping boroughs blossom and more rural communities pushing back against encroachment.

Montgomery County’s nascent borough boom seems destined to explode in Lansdale, where its downtown is on the cusp of expansion by way of a shiny, new parking garage and dozens of new homes.

Everything seems in place for more development in the years ahead, and it’s about time, says longtime county planner-turned-consultant Carmen Italia.

“Lansdale has had plans for years. ‘We’re going to do this. We’re going to do this,’ they’d say,” according to Italia, who spoke with borough officials at a recent meeting.

Lansdale would be following in the path of other boroughs like Ambler, Phoenixville and Doylestown, which have Main Streets that mix restaurants, boutique shops, apartments and condos.

These boroughs provide residents of surrounding towns with places to go on the weekend for a date, or to take kids to a movie, or to simply window shop. Main Streets are mirroring the comebacks that many cities are enjoying.

But what if boroughs decided that only residents of those locales could park on their streets or in their public lots? What if their revitalized movie theaters like The Grand Theater in East Greenville or The Ambler Theater would only sell tickets to folks who live within borough limits?

It’s a silly notion, admittedly, since borough centers thrive in part from residents of nearby towns visiting and spending money on businesses and food.

But it’s not much different from the feelings expressed by a roomful of residents at a Jan. 12 meeting in Lower Frederick about a county-proposed trail.

The trail would run eight miles along Swamp Creek on the outskirts of another Montgomery County borough, Schwenksville. It’s a quiet, rustic place, and residents clearly want to keep it that way.

Their anger with the county blazing a new trail has somewhat to do with fears of eminent domain -- the government possessing private land. It’s something that they saw happen a decade ago when the county created the Perkiomen Trail. Back then, the county reached settlements with roughly a dozen landowners for easements that allowed for the 20-mile trail, which stretches from King of Prussia up to and through Schwenksville.

So the area’s residents have heard this song before. And they clearly don’t like the tune.

County planner Michael Stokes, who ran the meeting, said the resistance to the idea for a new eight-mile trail called Sunrise appears stronger at first glance than it was for the Perkiomen. He also helped develop that trail. Sunrise would be an offshoot of the Perkiomen.

“A lot of these people clearly don’t like trails,” Stokes told me after the meeting. He cautioned that initial public meetings on a proposal can elicit stronger sentiments than might accurately represent the overall community.

What a thing to say: “I don’t like trails.”

What the residents of quiet, woodsy townships like Lower Frederick and Upper Salford and Skippack actually don’t like is the prospects of increased use of their remote greenways.

Many at the meeting said that if they want to visit Sunrise Mill -- an 18th century mill that would bookend the trail -- it’s an easy-enough drive. And instead of a trail, how about the county spend its money on the mill and surrounding land so anyone can drive there and enjoy the historic spot?

The mill, they say, isn’t officially open to the public because it needs an expensive makeover to bring it out of a dangerous state of disrepair.

Stokes believes the trail comes before the mill. What’s a destination without a way to get there?

“But we can drive there already,” local folks insisted.

At first, you might think they miss the point: A trail is for people who don’t want to drive.

But for residents, it’s more than that. It’s about leaving Swamp Creek as it is.

One resident suggested that the county abandon the trail idea and focus its efforts on getting a whole bunch of state fishing licenses to give out. That way, he said, hikers could use the licenses to explore the creek without the need of a trail.

Of course, he added, they would have to walk in the creek, since some stretches of the waterway are banked by private land.

That’s a silly idea too, one you’d think was made sarcastically in the midst of a heated meeting. But the man wasn’t laughing.

These days, talk of trails in Montgomery County is serious business.

The Montgomery County Planning Commission is conducting a feasibility study for the creation of Sunrise Trail. At least two more public meetings will be held through the spring. Findings from the study are expected in the summer.

Brian X. McCrone’s columns appear each Thursday in’s Montgomery County News section. In addition to the columns, McCrone and his colleagues at and NBC10 provide daily news and feature stories on Montco. Reach out to him at or (610)668-5540. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook.

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