The Goat Path

Amish Country’s Legacy to Public Planning…and Failing

Everyone who lives in Lancaster County knows about the Goat Path.  It is a stretch of unusually shaped land that stretches straight through some of the most productive Amish farmland in the County.  The unusual shape is due to the fact it was destined to become a roadway, and much excavation and earth-moving had been done before it was abandoned and allowed to naturally turn into a grassy meadow.  

Today, the goat path is used by local farmers to graze their animals (yes sometimes with goats) and various recreational pursuits (though unofficially) pop up there as well, such as a radio-controlled model airplane club that gathers on the goat path for their runway.  Most recently, however, it has been announced that a section of the goat path will be finished, paved over into the roadway it was technically envisioned to be, all those years ago.  

If it does come to fruition (expect a firestorm of local pushback and resistance) the section would only be a tiny piece of the original plan, but it would nonetheless represent a closure of a chapter that has been hanging open for decades in Lancaster County.  The section due to be completed is a 1.2-mile stretch of “path” which would connect Lancaster County’s main thoroughfare, Route 30, with the Greenfield Corporate Center, a large expanse of industrial park, by way of connecting Lancaster City’s Walnut Street with the industrial park.  The rest of the 11-mile stretch would remain abandoned.

The Lancaster Newspaper recently published a historic timeline of the roadway:

1890 – Lancaster County’s Route 23 grows out of an unofficial settler’s path.  It would be the last toll road in Lancaster County.

1963 – 21 municipalities along Route 23 endorse a plan for a “bypass” and PENN DOT commissions a feasibility study.

1966 – PENN DOT announces a plan to build the roadway.  It would be 21.8 miles and lie about a mile south of exiting Route 23, with five interchanges. 

1970 – The State runs out of money, and the project is halted.  What design work had begun stops.

1973 – The State’s budget for the year includes funding for a portion of the roadway, and some work resumes.

1977 – The state runs out of money again.  The project is halted.  Eight inches of dirt is placed, and the grass is seeded to prevent runoff, and erosion, and the roadway essentially becomes the goat path we’re all accustomed to today.  

1987 – PENN DOT does another study to explore restarting the project.  Public outcry and outrage (both local and nationwide) stall the project.  Many Amish farmers attended the public meetings in a show of silent yet powerful opposition.  (ACN note – the movie WITNESS came out in 1985 and was a huge worldwide hit, putting a renewed lens on the Amish, and Lancaster County in general, idealizing the local Amish farmland.  Public sentiment in 1987 – fresh off the movie’s impact – was not surprisingly highly protective of farmland in Lancaster County.)

1988 – The PA Governor at the time is quoted as saying he will not “bifurcate the Amish heartland.”

2019 – After over 30 years, of various studies, commissions, plans, and programs that were to deal with the goat path (all of which came to nothing) the 1.2-mile walnut street extension is announced by the State in conjunction with High Real Estate (the operator of the industrial park.)  

2022 – Ground is broken on the 1.2-mile extension.  

By Clinton Martin