Story By Susan Koomar
DINGMANS FERRY - Residents on the Milford end of the McDade Trail will be able to take a much longer hike next summer if all goes according to plan.
National Park Service officials expect to open a new section of trail that will extend from Raymondskill Road south to Bushkill - 12 miles one way. The northern end of the trail now runs just three miles from Milford Beach to Raymondskill/Pittman Orchard.
Much of the trail has been constructed. The next step is installing 12 pedestrian bridges that range from 25- to 80-feet long. That work will begin this fall by a private contractor, said Rich Degnan, facility manager of the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area.
"My goal is connectivity," he said.
A new section of trail north of Smithfield Beach will have three timber bridges constructed by park staff. Degnan hopes to keep that part of the project moving through the winter.
"Even when it's 20 or 30 degrees, we can go out and build bridges," he said.
McDade Trail work has been deferred as a result of three major Delaware River floods. Hikers and bikers can view the river from many sections of the trail. Degnan credited his staff with resiliency and determination this summer - a season when rain could have further delayed the project.
"They put extra effort into it despite the weather. They didn't let the weather get them down. Their attitude is ‘Let's get ‘er done,' " he said. "We kept moving to a different location - whatever was highest and driest."
Park employees had help from volunteers of the Student Conservation Association this summer. The students constructed a rock wall along a steep section of trail near Turn Farm along River Road.
After the new sections open next year, the park service will seek volunteers to patrol and help maintain the trail. A volunteer bike patrol already exists.
"It's a lot of trail to cover," he said.
Degnan knows firsthand how popular the trail is. Residents of Sunrise Lake Estates, he and his wife bike the trail about twice a month.
The project dates back about ten years, made possible by federal funds and named for longtime 10th congressional district representative Joseph McDade of Scranton.
In addition to the McDade and other trails, hikers can follow 27 miles of the Appalachian Trail through the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area.