Valley News Dispatch (Tribune-Review): Hundreds turn out for Gilpin trail opening, look forward to completion of next leg this year

Avid cyclist Bob Cropp enjoys blazing a trail.

And with the addition of 10 miles to Armstrong Trails in Armstrong County, Cropp of Grove City arrived on his bike Monday morning to learn more about the ongoing efforts to expand the trail in the Kiski Junction corridor through Gilpin.

“It’s new to see, and I want to support this,” said Cropp of his reason for attending the “Celebrating the Impossible” trail christening, a public event at the Armstrong Trails trailhead in Schenley that drew a large crowd despite rainy weather.

The gathering was sponsored by Armstrong Trails, an organization dedicated to protecting and converting railroad corridors into trails for public use, with a goal of acting as an economic stimulus for area communities.

Hundreds gathered from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. to officially open the newest section of completed trail that runs from Crooked Creek/Manor Township in Armstrong County to Gilpin, part of the 52.5-mile trail on the former Allegheny Valley Railroad corridor.

The completed trail extends from Rosston in Manor Township, near the confluence of Crooked Creek and the Allegheny River, to the Kiski River in Gilpin and includes a refurbished railroad bridge that dates to 1899.

Armstrong Trails Executive Director Chris Ziegler said she was a little overwhelmed with emotion by the turnout Monday.

“We worked really hard for a solid nine months. Without Art and Pam, this task would have been much harder. They showed up every day,” Ziegler said.

Trail volunteers Art Haugh and Pam King are core helpers. King of New Castle smiled with satisfaction as she reflected on her new volunteer pursuits.

“It’s just really neat to see this,” said King, who volunteers operating heavy-duty excavating equipment. “It’s a great turnout, and I’m feeling good.”

“(Ziegler) is amazing. She has done the impossible,” Armstrong County Commissioner Anthony Shea said.

Shea recalled when a factory in Schenley closed in 1982.

“It was a really sad day, and people said the best days of this area were done. I don’t believe that. I believe with these trails, our best days are ahead of us,” Shea said.

Pennsylvania Department of Natural Resources Secretary Cindy Adams Dunn traveled from Harrisburg to serve as one of the guest speakers.

Dunn noted beyond the connection of the communities the trail provides, the trail ultimately connects people and their stories.

“These things take time. This Armstrong Trails has been underway for 30 or more years,” Dunn said. “And this trail is significant. This bridge is special.”

Closing the trail gaps statewide is a priority this year, Dunn said.

Gov. Josh Shapiro allotted $112 million for park and forest infrastructure last year. In the latest proposed budget, Shapiro is asking for $8.5 million to build trails across Pennsylvania.

“It’s attracting and keeping communities together, particularly young people — having people come home to the best places to live, work and play nestled along the banks of these rivers,” Dunn said.

Armstrong Trails transportation history dates back to 1855 when the first railroad line along the Allegheny River began hauling passengers, lumber, iron ore and coal.

Rail service continued into the 1970s.

In 1992, Armstrong Trails (formerly Allegheny Valley Land Trust) purchased the rail corridor for Armstrong Trails.

Gilpin resident Megan Beattie lives about a mile from the trail and attended the ceremony.

Beattie said she was happy to hear that the next 4 miles of trail on tap will continue from Schenley south to Leechburg.

“It’ll be neat to just go straight to Leechburg. This is super convenient,” Beattie said.

Leechburg Mayor Doreen Smeal was among the local officials in attendance.

She said Leechburg is ready to welcome the trail and hopes to welcome plenty of recreational tourists this summer.

“All of the easements are approved, and property owners along Kiski, River and Hicks avenues have worked with the borough. We’re going to do everything we can to make our little town a tourist town,” Smeal said.

Three free bike racks recently were installed in Leechburg Riverview Park, at the Volunteer Fire Department near the Kiski River boat launch and one at the end of the Hyde Park Walking Bridge, all donated by the Leechburg Rotary.

Cyclist and retiree Chris Lorenzato of Canonsburg showed up to check out more biking options for himself and his cyclist friends.

Lorenzato, 71, has been riding since 2001.

“They’re doing good. I’ve been all over these trails. I just go to the trailhead, and we ride all day,” Lorenzato said.

Next up for the trail volunteers is locating cross pipes and cleaning up the trees along the 4-mile stretch to Leechburg.

Already funded by the trail volunteer fund, the Leechburg expansion will cost about $60,000.

The trail is expected to be completed in late spring in time for the summer season, Ziegler said.

“We’re not guaranteed money or funding or anything, but we are guaranteed smiling faces that we see riding down the trail — the grandparents and families — that’s what we’re guaranteed,” she said.

Armstrong Trails follows along the eastern bank of the Kiski and Allegheny rivers in Westmoreland, Clarion and Armstrong counties.

Ziegler told the crowd that a $120,000 cash investment paid for the project, but not without the donations and volunteer hours of an estimated $657,000 in labor costs and $813,00 in donated equipment.

Gilpin Supervisors Chairman Charles Stull is eager to see the next phase of the trail connecting Gilpin and Leechburg completed.

“This will not only help bolster the Gilpin economy, but also Leechburg’s economy and the entire Leechburg area. This extension is huge for our local recreation and economy,” Stull said.

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