PHOTOS: Introducing the Easton Rail Park

The rail station in Easton apparently used to be a really neat looking place, but it’s since burned down so unfortunately there’s not an opportunity for adaptive reuse there. But last year my Mom had a cool idea to turn the abandoned railway, which passes over 611, into a rail park like New York City’s High Line, and one day this past summer I decided to go check it out.

The following is a virtual tour of the trail from the “entrance” at Washington and 4th Street (a hair west of the highway ramp next to the Wawa shopping center) to the free bridge in Phillipsburg, NJ.

My brother David is the photographer in the family, not me, so please bear with these crappy iPhone photos. My hope is merely that this blog post will inspire others to take similar trips, and eventually spark some interest from city officials and business leaders. There are several special things about this project that I will point out between the photos.

Here is the entrance to the trail. Currently much of it is overgrown with weeds, but as you can see, there are actually bricks down there. The entrance area is much wider than this picture suggests:

Some well-designed signage and other attractions, like maybe a permanent on-site concession stand or some food trucks parked to the side could make this area pop, and with some enlightened land use policies, eventually catalyze some sprawl repair around that area of Washington.

This path continues on for a little while and then you make a left onto the rail tracks. There probably is more track to the right but I didn’t venture over that way:

You continue through the foliage for a bit, and then you get a nice aerial view of downtown Easton (starting with an ugly view of the Quality Inn, the Condoms Galore dumpster, and related architectural diarrhea around the intersection of Washington and 611.)

Here’s the view down 4th Street:

Here’s what the trail looks like around 4th Street:

And here’s some more 1970’s planner diarrhea:

As you will see as we continue along the path, this is an opportunity to create a very nice park for Easton, which would likely be a regional draw, and would add a lot of land value to the area. But it should only be undertaken if the city goes into this with the view that it is an opportunity to do sprawl repair all along Washington east of the courthouse, infilling all those sidewalk-facing surface lots with mixed-use apartments and retail just like you see on Northampton Street. Yes I know that Washington is a very steep hill; no, I don’t want to hear that this makes it a bad fit for urban infill. I see people walk up Washington all the time. (Bonus fun fact: they used to close the hill off back in the day when it snowed, and my grandmother and her friends would go sledding down it.)

Some more imagery from the path as we continue toward the river:

The view of the river is so awesome, but the view of the corner of 3rd Street is not. It really makes you realize how much of this key gateway into downtown Easton is devoted to vibe-killing, budget-murdering surface parking. This is the worst place ever for a gas station. It is the worst place for all this stuff.

Here is where things start to get really good. The views get even better as you get out of the city area.

I’m pretty convinced that all the safety issues up to this point are surmountable, but I think city lawyers might get a bit nervous about the part where the trail approaches an active train line. They’re far enough apart that sensible people won’t venture into harm’s way, but if idiot-proof is the standard we’re using, we might run into some difficulties with this:

We’re still in Easton at this point, and the views of the canal are amazing in the lead up to the bridge into New Jersey:

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Here’s what it looks like crossing the bridge into Phillipsburg:

This is my favorite part of the trip. When you get into Phillipsburg, you enter right into a pretty decent part of Phillipsburg. There’s an area to look out on the water, and there is also a bar (on the left). Actually there are multiple bars within a short walk. This area could be much better-landscaped, with more food vendors, eateries, and green space. The trail wouldn’t just be a fun curiosity, it would be a useful way to walk or bike between downtown cultural offerings in Easton, and food and drink in Phillipsburg, connecting the two downtowns in a very scenic loop.

And as you continue along, you get to the area right across the free bridge. There’s a beer store, there’s the train car diner, and some other eateries:

The trail continues on past the free bridge for quite a while, and just as on the Easton side, it could be used as a catalyst for redevelopment of the waterfront if paired with enlightened land use and tax policies.

I’m not sure how high of a priority a project like this could be for Easton at the moment, with so many other things going on, but if I were King of Phillipsburg (or whatever they have over there) I would be beating down Sal Panto’s door to start holding talks between city staffers on this, because Phillipsburg badly needs a piece of that Easton magic. The two sides of the river could eventually come to be seen as one big downtown if the two city governments made an effort to collaborate on more joint redevelopment projects like this, and a rail park could be just the thing to spark some private development interest on the presently undesirable parcels around either side of the trail.

I encourage Eastonians, and really everybody in the Lehigh Valley, to go take this walk, not get caught, and then spread the word to Easton’s elected officials and planners that you want them to get an official study going in the New Year!