Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Join Norristown's Action Team

What you need to know most about today's topic is VOLUNTEERS ARE NEEDED - specifically, Norristown residents or business folks. For what? The Norristown Schuylkill River Action Team.

The PA Environmental Council launched a "Rivertown Program" to help revitalize distressed communities along the state's rivers by using the river itself as an economic stimulus. If you check their website, it doesn't even mention the Schuylkill, but our river is included. Four Action Teams have been set up at different towns along our river and Norristown is one of them.

Our Team has 2 specific goals. First, to get cyclists and hikers who use the Schuylkill River Trail through Norristown to take detours into town, to visit our restaurants, or take a cycling tour of our architecture (then visit our restaurants), or to come into town for our festivals (and leave some money here). Second, to give our residents more recreational opportunities along the river--let them know the Trail is there for them, too, as well as have places they can canoe and kayak and swim on a hot summer's day.

Schuylkill River Trail at the train station
What kind of an impact could this have? 800,000 people use the Schuylkill River Trail . That's for the entire length; not all of them come through Norristown. Still, the part of it that goes from Phoenixville through Norristown and Conshy into Philly is the longest completed stretch (26 miles), and therefore it's one of the busiest, especially on weekends. We keep talking about how a slip ramp will revitalize the town, yet we have an expressway of bikers coming through town NOW, and we don't need as much infrastructure put in place to connect those trail users with our businesses. Best of all, because the state and other groups are involved, there's grant money available to actually get stuff DONE.

Some of the easy things that are already in the works: signs are being placed on the trail for the Arts Festival this weekend, to let cyclists know there's an event going on only a block away. This could be done for ALL of our festivals. Permanent signage and information kiosks are also being planned, to let bikers know WHY they should come into town.

The Dragon Boat Club is involved with connecting the trail users to Riverfront Park. Right now, because of the tall brush along the trail, you can't even see the river or the park from the trail. Feed The Burbs has agreed to help clear the view and design a nice, low-maintenance landscape for that hillside (possibly even a community garden), which will give great views of the river, create a safer, more open feel for the area, and improve Norristown's look. Our Dragon Boaters will also be doing more to get the community down to the river--more events, a renovation of the approach to the park, water sport education, kids' programs, and a floating dock that everyone can use.

I've been going to Norristown Action Team meetings since the beginning of the year, but honestly, I'm about the only N-town resident there. (Bill Caldwell also comes on occasion.) They want more of the community involved, and we SHOULD be. Up to now, the team's been meeting once a month in the afternoon, but the time of the meeting can be changed to accommodate more residents and business owners. I'd love to see members of the Norristown Business Association and all of our youth organizations get involved with this.

We keep waiting for someone to come along to revitalize our town. Well, now someone has. If we lazily sit back and hope someone else comes up with all the ideas and does all the work, at best, there will always be a disconnect between trail and town. At worst, the work might never get done. Remember, other towns on the river have teams as well. Let's not let Phoenixville and Conshy leave Norristown in the dust.

If you're interested in joining the Norristown Action Team (or at least, coming to find out what it's about), email Lizzie Hessmiller of the PA Environmental Council at lhessmiller@pecpa.org . Say that you're from Norristown, and tell her the best times for you to attend a meeting.

If you want to keep up on what's happening with the Schuylkill River Towns project, LIKE their Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/Schuylkillrivertowns . Right now, most of the news is about the other towns. Let's make Norristown just as active.

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