Saturday was perfect for a walk along the Susquehanna River and the celebration and ribbon cutting for the $2.3 million Susquehanna River Walk.
The sky was bright and the wind gusty as about 70 people gathered for the ceremony just east of the bronze statue of a lumber-era "wood hick" - the first of a series of art works planned for four miles of walkway on the city and South Williamsport sides of the river.
The speeches before the ribbon was snipped were short and positive, emphasizing the importance of the river walk as a recreation area that links Williamsport back to its river city roots and to its neighbors in South Williamsport, Loyalsock Township and Montoursville.
The Susquehanna River Walk and Timber Trail Celebration Saturday included a dog walk with families, children and the Nittany Greyhounds, pictured above, as well as a 5k run/walk, trail cleanup, and story telling time.
Lycoming County transportation planner Mark Murawski played a key role in the planning and said the walk became an instant success when completed late last year and continues to be heavily used. "There was a real appetite for getting on this right away." he said.
The river walk is so popular and its views of the river so strong, the annual Tour de Bill bicycle ride through the city and past its many attractions has incorporated it into this year's tour itinerary.
David Stone, a supporter of the tour, was on hand for the ceremony Saturday and said the river walk includes at least two of his "favorite spots" along the river.
Murawski recalled how the need to establish a modern-day link came up a decade ago during the "visioning" sessions that helped generate ideas and goals for Our Town 2010 and subsequently the downtown "Lead Partners" alliance.
Three projects were identified as crucial, he recalled.
The first to be completed was the new Market Street Bridge. The second was the river walk, and the third encompassed downtown revitalization that included the soon-to-be built Church Street Transportation Center and the planned second phase of the Trade and Transit Center.
According to Murawski, surveys of the public at the time showed almost 100-percent support for "reconnecting the community to the river," which the river walk helps accomplish.
Lycoming County Commissioner Rebecca A. Burke, speaking for herself and fellow Commissioners Ernie Larson and Jeff Wheeland, recalled the early stages of planning by the Lead Partners and their rule that, during meetings, participants were to avoid anything negative about the area and focus on its positive and projects to improve it. "You couldn't come (to a meeting) and complain," she said.
The 11 speakers thanked many people during their comments. Burke ended her remarks by briefly recognizing the county's planning team for its efforts on behalf of the river walk project with special thanks going to Murawski, who she said may be the "best transportation planner in the state."
Vincent Matteo, executive director of the Williamsport-Lycoming Chamber of Commerce, and a member of the original Lead Partners, joked that Murawski had written the commissioner's speech and then, in a more serious vein, went on to stress that attractions like the river walk add to the "quality of life" locally and are the kind of features that help attract new companies and jobs to areas.
Mayor Gabriel J. Campana, a member of City Council when the planning process began, turned away from the river and toward the city's skyline during his comments and said the city - like its connection to the river - "is back (and predicted) a year from now (its) skyline is going to look even more beautiful."
The final speaker was the county's retired former chief planner, Jerry Walls, representing the Susquehanna Greenways Project. He said the partnership's goal to interconnect greenways and trail along the river and predicted that, someday, this path may even extend downriver to the Chesapeake Bay.
Walls said this linkage to the river is important to the city and Lycoming County because it "establishes (them) as a state-wide gateway" and could lead to "enhanced recreation opportunities" and then "economic stimulus and community revitalization benefits."