SCRANTON — During his five years with Lackawanna Heritage Valley, Trail and Environmental Projects Manager Owen Worozbyt has seen several acts of vandalism along the Lackawanna River Heritage Trail but nothing approaching the recent rash of damage.
There have been numerous incidents of vandalism on the trail in the last two weeks, including significant damage to lamp posts at the Olive Street trailhead and gates at the Elm Street trailhead. Vandalism has also been reported along the D&H Rail-Trail in Susquehanna County.
“Recently, we’ve been seeing more vandalism pop up in Scranton, but also north of Carbondale in Fell Township,” Worozbyt said. “I don’t know what happened the past couple weeks, but there’s just been a long string of really reckless vandalism.”
Worozbyt was particularly troubled by a light pole that was knocked down in Scranton.
“That was the most impressive one we’ve seen so far,” he said. “They ripped the whole unit out. Fortunately, somebody reported it to us right away and we were able to come down and take the pole and light back to our office. We plan on repairing it, but something like this costs a couple thousand dollars. If they stole the light pole itself, it probably would have been $10,000 to replace it.”
The Olive Street area is the only section of the trail that has lights, thanks to funding through the Safe Routes to School program.
“Instead of kids having to walk down the expressway, they are able to walk to school along the trail,” Worozbyt said. “(Also), after hours, if they play a sport or have an after-school activity, they can walk home along the trail.”
According to Worozbyt, vandals also ripped a gate off its hinges and threw it into the water in Fell Township.
“It’s just blatant disregard,” he said. “We have a welder working on it, and fortunately a volunteer group from a snowmobile club that uses the trail in the winter got the gate out of the river and is reattaching it for us.”
Worozbyt added there have been instances of criminal activity in the past and several violators have been charged.
“Here and there, we’ve had issues where people would throw rocks at the lights and smash out the glass,” he said. “We’ve actually been able to apprehend a couple people. Three kids, two years ago, were arrested and had to do their service hours working on the trail. But, really nothing to this extent where we’ve had gates ripped off and a pole ripped down.”
While Worozbyt wasn’t sure of the total cost of the damage, he believes it will be a substantial amount.
“I can’t give you an overall number but, for fixing gates and lights, it’s in the thousands (of dollars),” he said. “It’s not like it’s just $30 for a gallon of paint; there is some significant damage.”
In an effort to combat vandalism along numerous sections of the trail in Scranton, officials at Lackawanna Heritage Valley ask members of the community to report any mischievous activity, immediately, to police or the Lackawanna Heritage Valley headquarters at 570-963-6730.
“If everyone who saw something called, we could address it immediately,” Worozbyt said. “Everyone has a camera on their phone. They can take a picture of the act and send it to us so we have evidence to go after the vandals. We hope if we catch a few, it will deter others.”
According to Worozbyt, while police monitor the trail in Scranton, the organization is considering installing cameras along the trail.
“We’re exploring the potential of putting in trail cams,” he said. “We already have police presence on the trail, especially through Scranton. The Scranton Police Department is normally here twice a day on a bike or squad car. We’ve been doing the best we can, but it’s about encouraging trail users to report things as they see them to keep us in the loop. We’ve been very fortunate that we’ve had some really helpful trail users reporting vandalism.”
The Lackawanna River Heritage Trail is part of a 70-mile multi-purpose trail system which begins at the confluence of the Lackawanna and Susquehanna rivers in Pittston and continues north where it connects with the Delaware & Hudson Rail Trail to the New York State border.
Worozbyt believes the trail offers a great convenience to residents of Lackawanna County and beyond.
“It provides easy access to a recreational amenity throughout the valley,” he said. “You don’t have to drive your car to the state park, (the trail) is right in your backyard, normally. It’s not far from the center of the population and it’s generally flat. It’s great for people of all ages to come out and enjoy.”