Starting in 2008, the Schuylkill River Greenway Association (SRGA) helped to support a local preservation group in its efforts to establish a novel bike share program in downtown Pottstown. Mirroring similar programs in large cities across the country, Bike Pottstown was developed to bring the many benefits of cycling to the small PA borough, such as a reduction in downtown traffic congestion, increase in citizen fitness, development of local pride, and a new base for sustainable heritage tourism.
By purchasing a group of yellow painted bikes, and making them available for free at the local bike shop partner, Tri-County Bicycles, residents and visitors alike have been able to borrow a bicycle to ride along the Schuylkill River Trail, around town to do shopping or errands, and even to work. Helmets and locks are also offered free of charge and bikes need only be returned by 5:00 pm each afternoon.
By 2011, the program was expanded to Bike Schuylkill to bring bike sharing to other communities along the river, beginning with Phoenixville and Hamburg. The heritage area took over the administration of the program, providing funding, business plans, and facilitating partnerships with local bike shops and sponsoring partners. This three-way partnership model facilitates funding and community involvement in a unique way, while also ensuring that the bikes are consistently maintained.
“Bike Pottstown and the expanded Bike Schuylkill programs fit well with our mission,” said Kurt Zwikl, executive director of the SRGA, “Besides enabling us to introduce new people to the Schuylkill River Trail, the bike sharing also encourages people to visit downtown areas to borrow a bike and, by exploring the various resources of those towns, can stimulate the NHA’s on-going community revitalization efforts.”
The bikes have also been used for a unique program called Youth Heritage Treks. Through a partnership involving the SRGA, the NPS, and the federal TRIO Upward Bound Program, Youth Heritage Treks aims to familiarize underserved students with some of the area’s best recreational and historic resources. Each trek takes a dozen local high school students enrolled in Upward Bound programs and provides them with bikes to ride on the Schuylkill River Trail and visits important historic sites, including the three NPS units within the heritage area (Valley Forge, Hopewell Furnace, and Independence), and performs conservation work such as removing invasive crawfish from local creeks.