Although not an official part of Montgomery County's extensive greenway network, the 3.3-mile Skippack Trail is one of the region's memorable multi-use paths.
The paved trail branches off the longer Perkiomen Trail about a mile south of Graterford, passing under a restored railroad trestle. After passing through woodlands along the east bank of the Perkiomen Creek for its first quarter-mile, the trail turns east into a wide utility corridor shared by several high-tension lines. The sound of electricity can be heard crackling above, but the wires are high above and pose no danger to trail users. It may also surprise many users that utility corridors can double as open space where nature can thrive. Tall grasses and other scrub plants create a meadow-like environment where wildflowers bloom in the spring and summer months, small animals like rabbits and squirrels scamper along the ground and the calls of wild birds can be heard on the lines themselves and the massive towers that support them. The hilly terrain of the segment west of Route 113 also provides panoramic views of the surrounding countryside.
This meadow-like environment gives way to horse pastures between Mt. Airy and Collegeville roads. Here, it is interesting to see horses grazing directly under the powerlines, with subdivisions located on either side. This is real interesting example of how agricultural and suburban uses can coexist side-by-side.
The trail splits just before reaching Collegeville Road. Here, users have the option of either continuing east through the powerline corridor to the Thompson Road preserve, and thence, to Evansburg State Park, or turning north onto a branch that extends to Palmer Park and Skippack village.
After crossing Collegeville Road, the eastern branch of the trail enters farm fields. The open nature of this environment, with nearby woods and few visible homes, gives the impression of a rural landscape atypical for southeast PA. Uncultivated scrublands resume east of Meetinghouse Road, creating another meadow-like environment. After crossing Anders Road, the trail enters another woodland before ending at Thompson Road. This section nicely bookends the woods along the Perkiomen Creek and it is just a short distance east along Thompson Road to Evansburg State Park.
The northern branch, meanwhile, crosses Heckler Road and enters Palmer Park. Here, the trail follows a circular walking path that runs along the park's perimeter. Users can go either way, passing numerous memorials, nature areas, athletic fields and concession stands. After passing through the park, the trail briefly follows Creamery Road, then winds through open space and behind developments to Mensch Road. The greenway continues to thread between subdivisions north of Mensch Road, before ending at a parking lot on the south side of Skippack village. This section of the trail provides a non-motorized link between numerous developments and communities and makes it possible to hike or bike all the way from Skippack to Center City Philadelphia almost entirely off-road.
Unfortunately, there are a few shortcomings on this otherwise superb township greenway. First, although much of the trail system is signed, most are small and could easily go unnoticed, especially by people who are not familiar with the area. The trailhead in Skippack village is unmarked and kiosks at the parking lot on Palmer Park's south side, and eastern and western ends at Thompson Road and the Perkiomen Trail, respectively, are in poor condition and feature only faded, barely legible maps. The trail also changes from a paved sidepath to a concrete sidewalk along Creamery Road and the turn into the north side of Palmer Park is very poorly marked. Finally, there are very few benches and no restroom facilities, trash cans or dog poop bags on the trail outside Palmer Park. The treeless nature of the utility corridor, which provides the route for almost all of the east-west portion of the trail, can be very hot and sunny in the warm months of the year, so users are advised to carry water and wear sunscreen.
Despite these shortcomings, the Skippack Trail is a great example of "smart growth" and demonstrates how corridors designed to carry modern infrastructure like powerlines can become unintentional nature preserves.