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National Park Service aims to close several Brandywine Valley trails and create 8.3 new miles

First State National Historical Park
National Park Service

The National Park Service is proposing closing 8.4 miles of trails in the Brandywine Valley unit of the First State National Historical Park (NPS) and creating 8.3 miles of new trails in a released comprehensive trail plan.

Currently, The Brandywine Valley unit consists of around 27.4 miles of trails, including system and user-created paths, but trail use has never been comprehensively planned or assessed after NPS inherited the network in 2013.

First State National Park Superintendent Josh Boles says this lack of assessment means the trail system is technically in violation of a federal regulation that requires evaluation before bicycles are allowed on the trails.

Boles explains bicycling is a popular and longstanding use on the Brandywine Valley trail unit, and unless it is formally authorized, mountain biking will become prohibited.

“We as a park have basically been in violation of our own bike rule, and this trails plan environmental assessment is an attempt to get in compliance with the code of federal regulations," he said.

The proposed action plan would designate 14.7 miles of existing trails for bicycle use where NPS would perform site-specific modifications to decrease erosion, runoff or diminished user experience.

But Boles says these types of problems are not limited to potential bike-friendly trails, noting there are around 7.8 miles of user-created trails that are contributing to adverse environmental impacts, as well as the intentional system trails.

"No one had ever really thought of the trails from the National Park perspective — never thought 'Hey, do these go by resources that are important?' 'Are they maintainable?' 'Do they provide value to visitors?'" he explained.

Closing and restoring the stretch of identified trails, as well as creating the new ones, is estimated to cost around $2.2 million, but new construction is planned to be completed through multiple small projects over time.

Current maintenance of trails costs around $56,000, and the proposed changes estimate a 20% decrease in upkeep costs due to the creation of a trail network with less erosion and channeling.

First State National Historical Park
National Park Service

NPS also outlined a "no action" alternative in the comprehensive plan, which would result in no new trails, but would effectively prohibit bicycling and shutdown the 7.8 miles of user-created trails and restore them to their natural condition, costing around $425,000.

The Beaver Valley Preservation Alliance raised several concerns with the new proposal in a newsletter released Saturday, noting they are disappointed NPS didn't approach them during initial plan developments.

Beaver Valley Preservation Alliance founder Ken Hemphill argues the user-created paths create natural and practical connections.

“The reasons that they gave for wanting to close the trails like haphazardness or user-created — Show me a road in the United States that wasn't user-created," Hemphill said.

Hemphill is also worried about the impact of increased traffic on certain trails with the mass closure of others, advocates for existing trails to simply be reinforced to guard against erosion and argues NPS should instead focus on illegal ATV and motor vehicle activity.

The newsletter also raises concerns with closing trails behind Penns Woods Winery: "We hope that it's not part of some plan to allow the winery owners to expand their operations in and adjacent to the park, something they've been trying to do for several years now."

Boles denied these allegations, saying the operation of the winery has nothing to do with the comprehensive trails plan.

Penns Woods Winery does hold a sublease for their vineyard growing land, but Boles says that is the extent of NPS's relationship with the winery.

"We don't cut off pieces of land and give it to people — it's not how we work."

Boles says the remainder the Preservation Alliance's concerns are addressed in the trails plan.

NPS is soliciting public comment on the proposed plans between July 2 and August 1, 2024, and they will be holding three public input meetings in July.

More information on the meetings can be found here and public input can be submitted here.

Before residing in Dover, Delaware, Sarah Petrowich moved around the country with her family, spending eight years in Fairbanks, Alaska, 10 years in Carbondale, Illinois and four years in Indianapolis, Indiana. She graduated from the University of Missouri in 2023 with a dual degree in Journalism and Political Science.