ASHLEY PLANES HERITAGE PARK
The Ashley Planes was a critical part of moving locally-mined anthracite over Wilkes-Barre Mountain for distribution along the east coat. For decades Earth Conservancy worked to formally recognize this engineering feat with a historical park and trail along the planes’ path.
The Ashley Planes, listed on the National Register of Historic Places, represents one of the nation’s transportation and engineering marvels. Built in 1848, the Planes were the primary means of transporting millions of tons of anthracite from the floor of the Wyoming Valley over Wilkes-Barre Mountain, on to White Haven, and then to points along the East Coast. The Planes’ system pushed rail cars up three inclined slopes, rather than pulling them by steam engine, which relieved stress on the joints between cars. Operation of the Ashley Planes ended in the 1940s.
Earth Conservancy’s Lower Wyoming Valley Open Space Master Plan (1999) recommended development of a heritage park for the Ashley Planes to highlight its contribution to the American Industrial Revolution. The park would have encompassed approximately 405 acres, including an educational trail marked with interpretative signage. EC would donate 297 acres and purchase 107 acres from the Reading Company. At the project’s outset, Reading had agreed to the sale. However, after the park’s design was completed and permits were in place, the company declined. Since the park would have been transferred to Luzerne County, its administration considered acquiring the lands. Budgetary constraints prevented the undertaking.
With no remaining options, EC ended its efforts to develop the Ashley Planes Heritage Park. EC sold its lands in the Planes’ vicinity to the Pennsylvania Game Commission in 2013 for conservation and public use.
June 2012 | EC refunds planning grant received from PA DCNR.
April 2012 | After several attempts to communicate directly with the Reading Company, and limited funding at the county level, EC agrees to transfer its holdings in the Planes area to the PA Game Commission. The lands will be incorporated into abutting gamelands and open to public use.
February 2012 | Luzerne County begin transition from a commissioner-based government to a home rule council. As strategic planning proceeds, the Planes project is not ranked as a priority.
April – October 2010 | Luzerne County applies for funding through PA DCNR to acquire Reading property, but is unsuccessful.
February – November 2009 | A proposal to lease the Reading land is considered and negotiated. Communication between parties fails, and Luzerne County again seeks to acquire property through eminent domain.
November 2008 | Budget review by Luzerne County prompts reconsideration of its capacity to assume operations & management of the park.
April 2008 | The Luzerne County Commissioners vote to acquire the Reading property through eminent domain.
January 2008 | UGI finalizes approval for project.
January – June 2007 | Approvals to proceed with the project are worked on with PHMC, PA DCNR, PA American Water, and UGI. Reading notifies EC the company has put a hold on all land sales.
August – October 2006 | Modifications are made to purchase agreement for Reading property. Additionally, a Phase I Environmental assessment is performed.
April 2006 | EC presents plans completed to date to both Ashley Borough’s council and Hanover Township’s commissioners for review and comment.
March 2006 | Luzerne County begins process to purchase Reading property.
February 2006 | Permits approved by Luzerne Conservation District.
March 2005 – October 2005 | Additional evalutions are requested by the PA Fish & Boat Commission and PHMC. Luzerne County submits a PA DCNR C2P2 grant request to support purchase of the Reading proprty. Grant is awarded in August.
April 2004 | EC receives grant funding through the Great American Cleanup, administered by the Pennsylvania Environmental Council and Wyoming Valley Watershed Coalition, to hold a cleanup along Solomon Creek near Plane #3. Over 300 tires and a tractor-trailer sized dumpster of garbage was removed from the site.
January 2004 – April 2005 | EC works with PA DOT to address several requirements for grant award, as well as a Categorical Exclusion. EC also seeks a right-of-way. The Luzerne County Commissioners agree to finance the right-of-way project and selected permitting expenses.
June – September 2003 | Pennoni submits two alternative designs for trail, which are reviewed and commented on by multiple agencies.
October 2002 – May 2003 | Continued meetings with PA DCNR and the D&L Heritage Corridor. Two key topics: connection to the D&L Trail and acquisition of land in the Planes area owned by the Reading Company. Additional studies are also required due to hits on the PA Natural Diversity Index. Steering Committe meets to review project progress.
May – June 2002 | EC and Luzerne County Commissioners discuss future administration of the park. The commissioners approve the “Ashley Planes Stewardship Agreement,” which states the County will assume operations and maintenance of the park, when completed, at their June meeting.
February – April 2002 | Preliminary draft of interpretive signage plan is developed and submitted to Interpretive Committee for review. Steering committee meets and reviews work completed by Interpretative Committee to date.
January 2002 | Pennoni submits preliminary draft of site plans.
October 2001 | The Interpretative Committee holds its first meeting and is assigned the task of developing a signage plan and to find historical/cultural resources for displays. Members include representatives from PA DCNR, PHMC, the D&L National Heritage Corridor, Luzerne County Historical Society, the Huber Breaker Preservation Society, and EC.
May – September 2001 | EC solicits proposals to complete engineering design for heritage park. Pennoni Associates is selected and engaged. Team begins to assemble a Steering Committee and Interpretative Committee (a subcommittee of the larger steering committee).
January 2001 | EC meets with Luzerne County Commissioners to discuss the project and long-term operations and maintenance options.
November 2000 | URDC completes conceptual plan for heritage park.
January – October 2000 | Meetings and tours continue with agencies to ensure plans meet required specifications. URDC works on surveying and mapping the site, assessing historical resources, and evaluating feasibility of proposed aemities. A preliminary draft is completed in August.
August – December 1999 | Multiple meetings and tours are held with elected officials and agency representatives including PA DOT, the Federal Highway Administration, and the PA Historical & Museum Commission (PHMC). EC solicits bids for a consultant to develop plans and specifications for the park. EC selects the Urban Research & Development Corporation (URDC). Luzerne County commits $10,000 to support the study.
July 1999 | The Delaware & Lehigh (D&L) National Heritage Corridor informs EC a $1 million grant has been awarded through PA DOT’s TEA-21 grant program to construct a heritage park for the Ashley Planes.
$203,000 – Earth Conservancy
$10,000 – Luzerne County
$1,000 – In-kind Services