Dave Ravegum, of Suedburg rides his Ford 1520 tractor to clear away brush and trees to make room for parking lot and picnic area at Swatara State Park in July. LEBANON DAILY NEWS FILE PHOTO

After nearly 40 years, it's finally happening. Construction of trails, parking areas and bridges at Swatara State Park in Lebanon and Schuylkill counties is under way.

The 10-mile-long project will cross into four townships - Bethel, Union and Swatara in Lebanon County and Pine Grove in Schuylkill County.

Work on the $4.67 million project, which is financed through state capital budget funds, is expected to be finished by July, the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources said Friday. The improvements will support outdoor recreation, such as canoeing, fishing, hiking, picnicking and bicycling.

"I'm thrilled something is getting done," said Lebanon County Commissioner Jo Ellen Litz, who is actively involved in the

The Appalachian Trail, a 2,179-mile trail from Maine to Georgia, passes through Swatara State Park. Construction is underway at the park for trails, bridges and parking areas. LEBANON DAILY NEWS FILE PHOTO

Swatara Creek Watershed Association. "I'm excited that something is happening. I'm unhappy it's being scaled back, but at this point, we'll take anything. It remains to be seen how far we get."

The project will include the installation of 10 miles of crushed stone trails along an existing railway bed and a portion of abandoned Old State Road. A new trail and bridge near Sand Siding Road will connect the former rail bed and roadway. Another bridge will span Mill Creek on the rail-trail.

Four new trailheads, or parking areas, will be built to afford easy access to the trails and launch areas for canoeing and kayaking.

Litz said the plans do not include restroom areas, which she said is essential. She said she hopes that more facility improvements will be made to accommodate park visitors.

"We're taking baby steps," she said. "I can't complain."

The state acquired the land for the park from 1971 to 1987. Totaling 3,520 acres, the park was subject of numerous surveys, environmental assessments, Bureau of State Parks research efforts and governmental and user-group committee studies.

"With its increased network of trails and access to Swatara Creek launching areas, we see park visitation growing significantly," DCNR Secretary Richard Allen said in a news release. "We know more than 84,000 visitors came last year to float and fish its waters and hike and bike its scenic woodlands."

Construction work will affect several areas of the park. Closings may be required along Old State Road/Bear Hole Trail, the rail-trail, Lickdale spur and the boat launch near Swopes Valley Road.

Mountain bike trails, Appalachian Trail and Waterville Bridge will remain open, as will a section of the rail-trail. The Swatara Creek Water Trail will require portage around the bridge construction.

Most of the park is located along Interstate 81 between Second and Blue mountains. An 8-mile stretch of the Swatara Creek Water Trail winds through the park, and two miles of the Appalachian Trail, which stretches from Georgia to Maine, cross its southern sector.

andreagillhoolley@ldnews.com; 272-5611, ext. 139