York County Heritage Rail Trail

York County Heritage Rail Trail

York County Heritage Rail Trail
Howard Tunnel
Established 1999
Length 21 mi (34 km)

Brillhart Station
Glatfelters Station
Seven Valleys
Hanover Junction
Glen Rock
New Freedom

Heritage Rail Trail County Park Map
Use Hiking, biking, horseback riding, fishing, pet walking
Hiking details
Trail difficulty Easy, level, ADA accessible
Season Year-round
Months Year-round
Surface Crushed limestone
Right of way Northern Central Railway
Website http://www.yorkcountyparks.org/parkpages/railtrail.htm
Image: 50 pixels

Heritage Rail Trail County Park is a National Recreation Trail[1] rail trail in the USA that was built in 1999 by the York County Government and connects with the Northern Central Railroad Trail in Maryland, which extends for another 20 miles (32 km) to Ashland (near Cockeysville). The trail runs along the abandoned Northern Central Railway line and forms the southernmost part of Route J in the BicyclePA route system. Trail enthusiasts can enjoy walking, jogging, bicycling, horseback riding and other non-motorized recreational uses from dawn to dusk, seven days a week throughout the year. While on the trail, users can enjoy art created from recycled materials, a beautiful community garden, historical museums at the Hanover and New Freedom train junctions, and fresh air while traveling along the handicap accessible and family friendly county park.


  • Historical development 1
  • Trail development 2
  • Community 3
  • References 4
  • External links 5

Historical development

Junction along the Heritage Rail Trail. The New Freedom junction now operates as a historical museum of railroad history.

Historical Significance

The Heritage Rail Trail is located along the train tracks that were built during the nineteenth century as part of the Northern Central Railroad. The Northern Central Railroad was an incredibly important link between Washington, D.C. and points along the northern path all the way to Lake Ontario and upstate New York.[2]

During the Civil War, the railroad was a target of the Confederate Army before the Battle of Gettysburg. The Confederate Army’s troops tried to isolate the Union's capital by damaging the railroad, telegraph wires, and bridges. On November 18 and 19, 1863, President Lincoln traveled on the railroad and stopped at Hanover Junction before giving the Gettysburg Address.[3]

History and Evolution

Between the years of 1838 and 1972, the Northern Central Railroad connected Baltimore, MD to York, PA and vastly contributed to the municipalities along the railroad.[4] However, once "Penn Central Railroad went bankrupt in 1970 and Hurricane Agnes caused a lot of damage to the railroad in 1972, the rail tracks were left abandoned until the rights to the rail and area around it were bought by the county of York, Pennsylvania in 1990."[5] In 1990, the York County Board of Commissioners created the Rail Trail Authority to assess and develop the abandoned 18.5 miles of the former Northern Central Railway. In 1999, the York Rail Trail Authority created "the county's first rail trail at a cost of $3.7 million."[6] Expansion of the trail to 1.5 miles from John Rudy County Park to Crist Memorial Fields was completed in August 2007. Beginning in early 2012, a $1.3 million project to further extend to the Northern Extension of the Heritage Rail Trail County Park, included the "completion of the trail section on Crist Memorial Fields in Manchester Township, construction of a bridge for pedestrians and bicyclists across Codorus Creek, and ramp approaches on the east and west banks of the creek."[7]

Trail development

Section of the York County Heritage Rail Trail that runs through New Freedom, Pennsylvania.

Design and Construction The trail is used for many activities such as hiking, bicycling, running, horseback riding. In the winter, the trail has also been used for cross-country skiing and snowshoeing. The trail and restrooms are ADA accessible. The design of the trail is a ten foot wide path and consists of compacted stone surface. It also includes the Northern Central Railway, a temporarily inactive rail line. The grade throughout the trail is level, however, "New Freedom has a high point of elevation (818 ft) and the low point of elevation is (400 ft) in York City."[8] More services and facilities are offered throughout the 11 municipalities the trail passes.[9]

Trail Amenities

"Livesize Horse" An example of creative art along the Heritage Rail Trail

Facilities include picnic tables, restrooms (ADA accessible), and benches.

Historic features of the trail include two museums supported by the Friends of the Heritage Rail Trail Corridor. The Hanover Junction Railroad Station, as listed on the National Register of Historic Places, was visited by President Abraham Lincoln on November 18 and 19, 1863, as he traveled to Gettysburg to give the Gettysburg Address. The station was finally restored to its 1863 appearance in 2001. To gain more information on the days and hours of the museum, visit: Hanover Junction Railroad Museum. The New Freedom Railroad Station of 1860 was restored to its 1940 appearance in 2003. To gain more information on the days and hours of the museum, visit: New Freedom Railroad Museum. Other historical sites, include the Howard Tunnel of 1838, "a 250 foot long tunnel named for a Revolutionary War soldier from Baltimore."[10] and the Mason Dixon Line, the old line of freedom."[11] Memorials include a Korean War memorial in downtown York and a War Rescue Dog World War II Memorial.

Art features of the trail include public sculptures, such as a livesize horse and man and "ordinary" bicycles made with used bicycle parts and commissioned by artists in Maryland. This was installed as part of completion of the rail trail in 1999. Murals are also apparent through communities such as Glen Rock.
"Ordinary Bicycles" Another example of creative art along the Heritage Rail Trail

Small gardens maintained by the Rotary Club and the county's Juvenile Authorities can also be seen throughout the trail.


Trail supporters

Supporters of the Heritage Rail Trail vary greatly; from local businesses, non-profits, and schools to churches and local volunteers that serve as a helping hand in taking care of the community garden. Specifically, York College has groups of students that often come to take care of the trail in a variety of ways, fulfilling duties such as cleaning the park and taking care of the garden. The Rotary Club of York, PA, York County Juvenile Probation, York County Parks and Recreation, and the Penn State Master Gardeners also assist in funding and caring for the garden located along the trail. Individuals or families wishing to donate a bench to the Rail Trail can apply to a waiting list. By doing so, the person(s) dedicating the bench will place a commemorative plaque on the bench (for a price paid to county parks) and nearby boy scout troops will typically come out and build the dedicated bench. Again, some of the local non-profits, businesses and other organizations that work with or serve the York County Rail Trail Authority are as follows:

  • Rotary Club of York, Pennsylvania
  • York County Juvenile Probation
  • York County Parks and Recreation
  • Penn State Master Gardeners
  • United Way of York, Pennsylvania
  • Boy Scouts of America

Special events

Throughout the year, many special events such as charity walks, community/farmer markets, and other family friendly related activities take place on the trail. Organizations or groups wishing to hold an event on the trail must first contact County Parks in order to reserve the trail for that date at zero cost. Some of the events that take place on the trail are:

  • Walks Benefitting the American Cancer Society
  • Yorkfest Art Festival
  • March of Dimes Walks


  1. ^ "2010 National Recreation Trails". The National Recreation Trails Program. Retrieved 3 October 2011. 
  2. ^ http://www.southernyorkcounty.com/org/railtrail/html/history.html
  3. ^ http://yorkcountypa.gov/parks-recreation/the-parks/heritage-rail-trail-park/trail-history.html
  4. ^ http://www.southernyorkcounty.com/org/railtrail/html/history.html
  5. ^ http://www.southernyorkcounty.com/org/railtrail/html/history.html
  6. ^ http://www.yorkcountytrails.org/Trails/tabid/60/mid/464/ItemId/47/Northern-Extension-of-HRTCP.aspx
  7. ^ http://www.yorkcountytrails.org/Trails/tabid/60/mid/464/ItemId/47/Northern-Extension-of-HRTCP.aspx
  8. ^ http://www.yorkcountytrails.org/Trails/tabid/60/mid/464/ItemId/9/Heritage-Rail-Trail-County-Park.aspx
  9. ^ http://www.yorkcountytrails.org/Trails/tabid/60/mid/464/ItemId/9/Heritage-Rail-Trail-County-Park.aspx
  10. ^ http://www.americantrails.org/nationalrecreationtrails/trailNRT/heritage-PA.html
  11. ^ http://www.americantrails.org/nationalrecreationtrails/trailNRT/heritage-PA.html

External links

  • Walks Benefitting the American Cancer Society
  • Yorkfest Art Festival
  • March of Dimes Walks
  • Rotary Club of York, Pennsylvania
  • York County Juvenile Probation
  • York County Parks and Recreation
  • Penn State Master Gardeners
  • United Way of York, Pennsylvania
  • Boy Scouts of America
  • Images along the Rail Trail PA and MD