An open space system consists of several components, including parks, trails, natural areas, greenways, and farmland. The land is publicly or privately owned and may or may not be protected. Open space enhances a community’s aesthetic character and quality of life. The need for open space planning increases as the communities of the Lehigh Valley continue to grow.
To help communities plan and implement a park and open space system that their citizens’ desire, the National Recreation and Park Association (NRPA) has published Park, Recreation, Open Space and Greenway Guidelines (1996). The document provides a park and open space classification system and describes the level of service (LOS) approach to providing park facilities to satisfy the recreation demand within the service area.
Open Space Plans
Over the years, Lehigh and Northampton counties have been diligent in their efforts to increase county owned park and open space acreages. Both counties have adopted funding programs to further this effort, the Green Future Fund in Lehigh County and the 21st Century Open Space Initiative in Northampton County.
In response to recommendations made by the LVPC, Lehigh and Northampton counties started major countywide park programs in the late 1960s. The counties and the LVPC have been actively involved in park planning, acquisition and development ever since. In 1971, the LVPC completed the first Regional Recreation and Open Space Plan (updated in 1980). Subsequently in 1997 LVPC staff prepared the report Lehigh County Parks — 2005 and in 2002 wrote Northampton County Parks — 2010. These reports serve as the official park plans for the two counties. A comprehensive update of our trails data was completed and a report was produced in 2009 and updated in 2013.
The Lehigh County Livable Landscapes plan was developed through collaboration between LVPC and Lehigh County with the intent of guiding future park, recreation, open space and agricultural land efforts within the County.
The focus of the plan is on environmentally-sensitive areas, farmland, trails, outdoor recreation, historic and cultural areas, economic benefits and the overall quality of life within Lehigh County. The plan was developed through a robust public engagement program and identifies goals, policies and recommended actions that will define the desired future of Lehigh County.
The Lehigh Valley Planning Commission (LVPC), in collaboration with Northampton County, developed an open space plan to guide future conservation and outdoor recreation efforts within the county. The focus of the plan is on environmentally sensitive areas, farmland, trails, outdoor recreation, historic and cultural areas, economic benefits (see Return on Environment), and the overall quality of life within Northampton County.
A vision for Northampton County’s open space network defines the desired future of open space in the county. Further, the Northampton County 21st Century Open Space Guidelines were reviewed and updated as part of the plan. These guidelines provide information for applicants to obtain county funding to preserve natural areas and farmland and to acquire, develop, or rehabilitate municipal parks.
A greenway is defined as a corridor of open space, that may vary greatly in scale from narrow strips of green that run through urban, suburban and rural areas to wider corridors that incorporate diverse natural, cultural and scenic features. Greenways are a critical component of any landscape. They protect the environment, provide alternate routes of transportation, supply recreational opportunities, and connect natural and cultural areas to one another providing a linear resource for a variety of users. Connectivity is the defining characteristic that distinguishes greenways from isolated paths and pockets of open space. While individual parks, preserved lands, undisturbed natural areas and waterways are valuable resources in and of themselves, their conservation and recreational value is compounded when they are linked together.
This 2013 update, in addition to incorporating updated trail information, includes two new components: identifying priority trail
gaps and providing guidelines to designing safe road crossings for trails. These two new components are part of a statewide
effort by the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR) to help organizations and municipalities to implement
trail initiatives. There is a lot of interest in trails in the Lehigh Valley, and hopefully this compilation of current trail efforts will
provide municipalities, counties, and conservation partners a tool in advancing the development of the Lehigh Valley trail network.
Lehigh and Northampton counties have some of the best farmland in Pennsylvania. This land is being converted to housing, commercial and industrial uses. Most agricultural areas of the Lehigh Valley are under intense development pressure. Lehigh Valley residents think preserving farmland is important. Voters in Lehigh and Northampton counties have strongly supported open space and farmland preservation bond issues. Farmland preservation efforts have mostly focused on agricultural easement acquisition by the counties.
Agricultural security areas have been designated in both counties. To qualify for the agricultural easement program land must be in an agricultural security area, which is created under voluntary agreements between the property owner and the municipality. Under the agricultural easement program the property owner sells rights to develop land for nonagricultural purposes to the county. The property owner continues to own and farm the land. Municipalities can preserve farmland through local zoning controls. To be effective these controls must exclude uses other than agriculture, farm residences and accessory uses in agricultural areas and they must curtail subdivision development. Effective zoning practices have not been popular in the Lehigh Valley.
The areas recommended by the LVPC for farmland preservation in the Lehigh Valley have the following characteristics: (1) a concentration of prime farmland as defined by the Pennsylvania Municipalities Planning Code and soil survey data, (2) concentration of properties designated as Agricultural Security Areas in 2004, and (3) clusters of farms that have been preserved for farming under the county agricultural easement program.