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First trail plan proposed for First State National Park

Ken MammarellaCulture, Headlines

The first trail plan for First State National Park has been developed. National Park Service photo

The first trail plan for First State National Park has been developed. National Park Service photo

Miles of trails in First State National Park could be closed and restored to their native state, miles could be created, and miles of roads could be closed in a new plan from the National Park Service.

The 85-page Brandywine Valley Trail Plan Environmental Assessment from the National Park Service proposes spending more than $2 million on the favored plan. A second choice is called the “no action” plan.

The plans – a first for the park, only a decade old – will be discussed at three meetings in July.

The meetings will be at 2 p.m. July 14, 6:30 p.m. July 15 and 10 a.m. July 16, all at the Pilot School, 208 Woodlawn Road, at the eastern edge of the park, just off Concord Pike. All the meetings will present identical content, the service says.

The service is also accepting comments through Aug. 1.

The plan’s landing page includes links on the left to the meeting notices, and the “document link” goes to an 85-page report on the plan and various maps.

“The NPS inherited an existing trail network from the previous landowner, and multiple trails have been added over the years without management approval or official consideration of impacts on public safety or natural and cultural resources,” the service said in announcing the meetings.

“As a result, portions of the trail network suffer from increased erosion and tread wear, have poor connectivity and do not offer a high-quality user experience.

The release refers to “defining and improving” the trails, and the assessment starts out by drily noting numerous problems, but it quickly becomes evident that the favored solution includes closing trails and roads.

The proposed plan includes this configuration of trails. National Park Service

The proposed plan includes this configuration of trails. National Park Service

Plans for park trails

The park has six geographically dispersed units, and the plan covers the 1,359 acres in the Brandywine Valley unit, which is west of Concord Pike and east of the Brandywine in North Wilmington and into Pennsylvania. Almost half the land is agricultural fields and pastures.

The current trails “suffer from increased erosion and tread wear, have poor connectivity and do not offer a high-quality user experience,” the assessment begins. And, since the site became a park, “recreational users have created additional trails.” A 2021-22 survey measured 27.4 miles of trails.

The assessment offers two alternatives. The “no action” plan would limit public access to 15.4 miles of official trails and keep all the roads open. Biking and e-biking would only be allowed on the roads.

The “proposed action” plan would designate a 23-mile shared-use trail network that would include 14.7 miles of existing trails, 8.3 miles of new trails and 4.3 miles of administrative roads (open to the public for recreational use, but not their vehicles). All trails would be open to hiking, horseback riding, biking and limited e-biking. More than 8 miles of unofficial trails would be closed.

The proposed plan includes closing unofficial trails. National Park Service

The proposed plan includes closing unofficial trails. National Park Service

The proposed plan also includes two new parking lots, one at the end of Garden of Eden Road and another on Beaver Valley Road, near Beaver Dam Road. Each lot would hold six to 10 vehicles. The park now has a large lot (67 spaces) at Smith Bridge and smaller lots (four to 12 spaces) on Beaver Dam Road, Beaver Valley Road and Ramsey Road. “The lack of parking has been a long-standing issue,” the report says.

The proposed action plan would include $900,000 to build new trails, $430,000 to close and rehabilitate old trails, $750,000 to improve existing trails and $120,000 to construct the parking areas.

A 2023 civic engagement comment period generated a lot of support for sharing the trails. Comments favored signage to highlight “unique cultural or historical features” in the park. The proposed plan would also include “wayfinding” on the trails, so people would know where trails lead, and how far away destinations are.

The service also plans to fence off historic mica mines.

One important aspect of connectivity is how trails tie in to the adjacent Brandywine Creek State Park in the Rocky Run area. In that area, the proposed plan calls for closing multiple trails for a new loop trail.

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