Officials in Wrightsville, York County, have positioned the borough to take advantage of economic development opportunities that could attract bikers, hikers and history buffs to the river town.
Borough Council unanimously approved joining the Trail Town Program on March 15 after a presentation touting the economic impacts of trails by Steve Nelson, a consultant for Trail Town. Then, Mark Platts, president of Susquehanna National Heritage Area, presented a concept plan to turn the Mifflin House, a former stop on the Underground Railroad, into the headquarters for the organization.
“We’re very interested in it becoming a success,” council President Eric J. White said, specifically about the Mifflin House. “It will be another jewel for us.”
In an email after the meeting, Platts said the Mifflin project would be “both the gateway visitor center for our two-county national heritage area (Lancaster and York counties) and a new home for our nonprofit offices.”
The Susquehanna National Heritage Area has been an organization focusing on recreation on and near the river since 2001. In 2019, it received national designation as the nation’s 55th national heritage area. The group currently operates out of the Zimmerman House outside Wrightsville and operates the Columbia Crossing River Trails Center on the Northwest Lancaster County River Trail.
Platts said the goal is to purchase the Mifflin House, barn and “much of the surrounding landscape” for at least $4 million. To date, the organization has raised $3 million in pledges or “expected from a coalition of public and private sources.” He expects the project to take five to eight years to complete after the site is acquired.
“We hope to offer some initial public access and interpretation at the site as soon as feasible after acquisition,” he said.
The Trail Town Program revitalizes rural communities by growing outdoor tourism and small businesses by helping them take advantage of trails in Pennsylvania, Maryland and West Virginia.
In his presentation about Trail Town, Nelson said Wrightsville is in a good position to take advantage of being in the national heritage area and having the Mason-Dixon Trail for hikers come through its Riverfront Park. There are boat launches, the Civil War history of the town and the overall history of the community.
And the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation is eyeing improvements to the Route 462 bridge connecting Wrightsville to Columbia, to make it easier for pedestrians and cyclists to use the bridge.
“You’ve got some incredible opportunities here,” he said.
In other communities, the economic impact of trails has been “remarkably successful.” Communities along the York County Heritage Trail, a 22-mile path from York to the Maryland border, have seen a $3.5 million to $4 million in economic impact from the trail, he said.