With our partners Berks and Montgomery Counties, their respective Redevelopment Authorities, several municipalities, and a host of donors, foundations, and volunteers, our grassroots effort is transforming a forgotten Civil War-era railroad and greenway into an engine of community and economic development. This partnership's work to build our region's tourism, travel, and outdoor recreation economy has been lauded by the White House (2015), the National Endowment for the Humanities (2020), the National Association of Counties (Innovation Award, 2020), the George Herbert Walker Bush Points of Light Foundation (2020), the Huffington Post ("This is How you Bring a Town Back from the Brink," (2016) and USA Today (who ranked us as the second-best heritage rail attraction in all of North America).
Our railbikes--people-powered rail vehicles that enable young and old and persons with disabilities to exercise in nature (and learn about history at the same time)--are the first in Pennsylvania and were named "Best of Philly 2020" by Philadelphia Magazine. As part of its mission, the Trust creates employment and education opportunities for at-risk persons, traditionally-underserved persons, and persons on the Autism spectrum.
Several years ago, in the face of the loss of several of our last legacy industries, the Berks County Community Foundation funded a citizen-driven, professionally-led Visioning & Strategic Planning process to evaluate and plan for our region's economic future. The process included local and regional businesses, local, state, and federal political leaders, regional planners, and the Urban Partners economic planning firm. The study found that tourism and recreation were our region's best bet for building a resilient, robust, and sustainable economy, and made several recommendations for supporting and growing that sector. The Trust and its partners continue their work to implement those recommendations, with the successful record indicated above.
According to a 2020 independent report, the Trust's passenger trains bring over $8M of economic boost to our region each year, with the promise of much greater economic impact as our project is built-out. Providing a physical and thematic link between a multitude of municipal and private historic, recreational, and cultural sites, the Colebrookdale is the catalyst recommended by a recent DCNR, DCED, and Natural Lands Trust report for sustainable and compatible economic development in the Middle Schuylkill region.