Blue Marsh Trail Restoration Project

Executive Summary

DATE: May 20, 2020


LOCATION: Berks County, PA – 7 miles northwest of center city Reading

LAND MANAGER: U.S. Army Corps of Engineer (USACE)

SPONSOR: The Berks Area Mountain Biking Association (BAMBA)


Blue Marsh Dam was designed and built by the USACE and completed in 1978. USACE operates the Dam for flood damage reduction, low flow augmentation, water quality and recreation. With over 36 miles of trails, 6200 acres of land, 1148 acres of water, picnic areas, a small beach and boat launches the lake can accommodate all kinds of outdoor enthusiasts. The multi-use loop trail encircles the lake and is recognized as a National Recreation Trail. The Blue Marsh Lake Trail is one of the prominent ride areas that comprise the Greater Reading Area Ride Center, recognized by the International Mountain Bicycling Association.


The USACE maintains the trails within their means, but 40 years of weather and wear has taken its toll on this trail system. Also, the original trail design was somewhat elementary with lengthy loops, incorporating abandoned roads, following the terrain up steep climbs and fall lines, and through ground water pooling areas.


An outdated trail design, erosion on the steep climbs, increased wet muddy segments, and lack of moderate loops has made this trail system less desirable among hikers and bikers. The 30-mile loop trail that encircles the lake is a major commitment in both time and endurance for even the expert users. Recreational preferences have evolved with the increased popularity of mountain biking and hiking. Trail systems need to accommodate all skill levels and today’s leisure time limitations. The Blue Marsh Lake Trail is in need of accommodating these changing requirements, in order to continue to serve and attract these user groups.


Update and enhance the Blue Marsh Lake Trail system using state of the art trail building techniques and incorporating multiple moderate loops that originate at the existing access areas.

Create an attractive, user-friendly outdoor recreation and fitness circuit, for all skill levels, families, and adaptive riders, to encourage regular outdoor recreation and fitness.


  1. Evaluate and refurbish the approximate 30 miles of trail around the lake (42 trail segments)
  2. Use the existing layout as a basis, and improve the flow of the trail system
  3. Maximize additional trail mileage within the USACE property boundaries
  4. Reroute trail sections to avoid steep climbs and ground water collection areas (39 hills)
  5. Add switchbacks, berms, and erosion controls for enhanced sustainability
  6. Add alternate equestrian /adaptive lines as required, or use the existing trail without alteration
  7. Add or relocate bridges when necessary (22 existing trail water crossings)
  8. Construct multiple 1-5-mile multi-use loops that are accessible from the existing parking areas
  9. Install Mile Marker signs every ¼ mile, and post skill levels and information signs as required
  10. Create a mountain bike skills feature area in the area of MM29.5
  11. Produce a Blue Marsh Lake User’s Trail Guide
  12. Install additional kiosks and maps at trail heads


All hikers, trail bikers, adaptive bikers (of all skill levels), and equestrians will benefit from an improved trail system. Families and “9-to-5ers” with limited leisure time will have the opportunity to recreate more easily via the variety of moderate loops and low-grade hill climbs, ultimately increasing overall tourism within Berks County.


  • Memo of Understanding between USACE and BAMBA (03/25/19)
  • Due diligence and data collection (use of the ArcGIS (06/10/19)
  • Incorporate design input from USACE, users, and the community
  • Raise funds for the master plan (03/01/19)
  • Develop a master plan with Trail Solutions of IMBA (11/30/19)
  • Portion the implementation into multiple phases, manageable mini projects. The first being the most used section, Mile Marker 29 to 0 (Upper stilling basin parking lot area)
  • Raise funding for Phase 1 (06/10/19)
  • Implement Phase 1A (12/19/20)
  • Phase 1B & 1C are funded and out for RFBD (05/01/20)
  • Phase 2 and Phase 3 are partially funded and being prepared (05/20/20)


  • U.S.A.C.E. - Project oversight
  • BAMBA - Raise all the funding and project management
  • BAMBA is a registered not for profit 501(c)3 organization and will manage the project funds
  • DESIGNERS - List is on Drop Box
  • INSTALLERS - Turnkey project, multiple contractors (BAMBA will supply volunteer labor if required)


Typical construction costs for bike trails are in the neighborhood of $3-5 per foot ($15-25K per mile). If new trail foundations are necessary, then the range is $10-15 per foot (up to $80K per mile). Existing trail will be refurbished where possible with some additions of equestrian bypasses, switchbacks, and potential bridge relocation/reconstruction - An Order of Magnitude cost of $1.5M - $2M for the total project work scope.


BAMBA will pursue and apply for grants employing the services of a professional fundraiser.

BAMBA will also solicit local businesses and philanthropic organizations and individual cyclists and citizens. Funding for the Master Plan, Phase 1A, 1B, 1C & Phase 2 has been received (05/01/20)


  • 2Q2019 - Master Plan initiation 3Q2019 - Trail Solutions site evaluation 3Q2019 - Phase 1 Design
  • 4Q2019 - Master Plan Completed 4Q2019 - Phase 1A Completed
  • 2Q2020 - Phase 1B & 1C
  • 3Q2020 - Phase 2 & 3
  • 2Q2025 – Total Project completion


  • Perception that this project can be accomplished purely by volunteers
  • Maintain funding pace for each phases of work scope