The Pennsylvania Environmental Council (PEC) was awarded $50,000 by the Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC) to assess the feasibility of developing new rail-trail corridors that would connect former coal towns across northeastern Pennsylvania’s anthracite region. This award is part of a nearly $46.4 million package supporting 57 projects across 184 coal-impacted counties through ARC’s POWER (Partnerships for Opportunity and Workforce and Economic Revitalization) Initiative. POWER targets federal resources to communities affected by job losses in coal mining, coal power plant operations, and coal-related supply chain industries.

“The downturn of the coal industry has impacted economies across Appalachia. That’s why ARC’s POWER initiative helps to leverage regional partnerships and collaborations to support efforts to create a more vibrant economic future for coal-impacted communities,” said ARC Federal Co-Chair Gayle Manchin. “Many of the projects we announced today will invest in educating and training the Appalachian workforce, nurturing entrepreneurship, and supporting infrastructure—including broadband access. These investments in our Appalachian coal-impacted communities are critical in leveling the economic playing field so our communities can thrive.”

The anthracite coal industry of northeastern Pennsylvania helped create the region’s communities, connecting them by an extensive transportation infrastructure, both of which have been in decline since major coal operations ceased. PEC will assess the feasibility of reconnecting these communities by converting abandoned rail corridors into trails, specifically focusing on the NEPA Trails Forum’s long-distance trails in Carbon, Lackawanna, Luzerne, Monroe, Pike, Susquehanna, Wayne, and Wyoming counties.

“The information gathered through this assessment will empower PEC and our trail partners to advance the individual projects of the NEPA Trails Forum,” said Brett Hollern, PEC Senior Project Manager for Trails and Outdoor Recreation. “It’s also a chance to demonstrate the value of cohesive identity for the trails, which will go a long way toward realizing the potential economic benefits of the trail network and creating a more sustainable future.”

Since POWER launched in 2015, ARC has invested more than $287.8 million in 362 projects across 353 coal-impacted counties. The nearly $46.4 million awarded today is projected to create/retain over 9,187 jobs, attract nearly $519.5 million in leveraged private investments, and be matched by $59.2 million in additional public and private funds across the Region.

ARC is working with Chamberlin/Dunn LLC, a third-party research firm, to closely monitor, analyze, and evaluate these investments. A new report, published today in conjunction with the announcement, found that projects funded through POWER grants met or exceeded targets for jobs retained and/or created, businesses created, workers trained, and revenues increased. Chamberlin/Dunn is continuing to monitor POWER investments and make recommendations to ARC for ongoing programmatic efficiencies.