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Fundraising efforts are up and running for the proposed South Mountain Trolley Greenway, an 8-mile recreational trail that would shadow the historic route of the former Cumberland Valley Railroad’s Dillsburg Branch.

Throughout October, Capital Joe Coffee in Mechanicsburg and Harrisburg donated 10 percent of individual sales for customers who say “Rail Trail” when ordering. Volunteer organizer David Maher said on Oct. 24 that he didn’t know how much the effort had raised so far but, “It appears to be going well.”

“Our intent was never to raise huge amounts through this. It’s supplemental money for a trail feasibility study and to let people know that it’s still going on,” said Maher, of Carlisle. “I should add that we approached Capital Joe for this fundraising opportunity because they, with the Downtown Mechanicsburg Partnership, were early supporters of the trail proposal.”

Organizers say that conducting a feasibility study to gauge local support is the first step of establishing the proposed trail for pedestrians, bicyclists and skiers. The study also is a precursor of applying for any future construction grants.

“I know feasibility studies don’t seem glamorous to people, but it’s something we need to do. The idea is to build sustained excitement for the project,” Maher said.

The path

As proposed, the trail would follow a historic railroad right-of-way through Cumberland and York counties. The north-south route would connect the downtown areas of Mechanicsburg and Dillsburg through rural portions of Silver Spring, Monroe and Carroll townships. The largest section of the path would traverse Silver Spring.

So far, organizers have compiled $50,000 in funding for the trail study, including grant funding from the state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources Keystone Fund grant, Cumberland County Land Partnership Program and York County Community Foundation, along with donations from the York County Rail Trail Authority, Cumberland Valley Visitors Bureau and Alpha Consulting Engineers. Donations also are coming in from the South Mountain Trolley Greenway’s active GoFundMe webpage, as well as the Capital Joe fundraiser.

Silver Spring Township is serving as the trail’s local municipal lead, submitting grant applications and handling awards. A donation fund is also being managed by the township. A GoFundMe campaign was established by the South Mountain Partnership, but those funds will be transferred to Silver Spring Township’s donation fund.

In May, the Silver Spring Township commissioners approved a resolution that supported the feasibility study, authorizing the township to apply for a $50,000 Greenways, Trail and Recreation Program grant from the Commonwealth Financing Authority that would provide partial funding. The township learned in September, however, that the state has denied the application.

Maher said he would like to see $100,000 raised for the feasibility study, although the effort now has enough “to move forward with a phased approach.”

History

The Dillsburg Branch of the Cumberland Valley Railroad was completed in 1872, linking the ore fields of South Mountain with Harrisburg’s extended rail network. The 8-mile stretch later offered passenger service that helped communities at each end prosper and grow. For example, tens of thousands of train riders would flock to Williams Grove each year during the weeklong Granger’s Picnic event, according to the South Mountain Partnership’s website.

The 20th century brought even more change. The Dillsburg Branch was incorporated into the larger Pennsylvania Railroad system. The local line was electrified in 1906, initiating trolley runs between Dillsburg and Harrisburg. Over the next several decades, however, automobiles would phase out railroads for transporting passengers. By the late 1970s, train traffic on the Dillsburg line existed only in memory. The tracks were removed in the 1980s.

More to come

When finished, the South Mountain Trolley Greenway would have the potential to connect with the Mason Dixon and Appalachian Trails, State Bicycle Route 12, the Yellow Breeches Water Trail, and more.

“This potential rail-trail would highlight the heritage and beautiful scenery of the land, those things that so many of us love about our communities in the South Mountain region,” said Katie Hess, director of the South Mountain Partnership. “The potential to connect with (these other trails) offer revitalization opportunities to both trail groups and communities.”

The South Mountain Partnership is helping to facilitate the trail’s feasibility study. The public-private partnership is managed by the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources and the Appalachian Trail Conservancy.

Maher said the trail probably would be completed in phases totaling around 10 years. He hopes to see the first phase begin in early 2019 and completed within the year. Initial work would involve researching how land owned is within the corridor, conferring with affected property owners, and conducting public meetings.

“We’ve been very well received at all the places we’ve been to so far,” Maher said. ”As this rolls along, people have become their own self-appointed trail advocates.”

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