Two miles of graded gravel pathway represents more than a major link in the Path of the Flood Recreation Trail.
It is the embodiment of Steve Coy’s lifelong dream.
“It has been a dream of mine to be able to walk from Franklin to the Staple Bend Tunnel,” Coy said.
“There is a swimming hole near the tunnel we used to go to when I was a kid,” he continued. “Back then we had three options: Hop a slow-moving train, run from the railroad police or go through the jaggers. None of the three was very easy.”
Coy, who lives and works in nearby East Conemaugh Borough, arranged to have the pathway bulldozed and then did most of the grading and construction work himself over the last year and a half.
Coy has a passion for the trail, said Dee Columbus, director of the Cambria County Conservation and Recreation Authority.
“Steve has done an amazing amount of work,” Columbus said. “It started out as a stopgap measure, but they did an outstanding job.”
A formal opening ceremony is planned for early fall at the trailhead near Franklin’s ballfield off Clapboard Run Road, Columbus said. The section provides a final link for 10 miles of trail from Ehrenfeld to Franklin and extending into Johnstown along a share-the-road bikeway designated with signs.
Trail planners originally wanted to continue the trail along private roadways in the former railroad bed. But the roads are heavily used by two local businesses, Rollock Inc. and Phoenix Services LLC.
“That was not going to happen in the near future,” Columbus said.
The authority was looking at a temporary trail along former logging and mining roads on the steep hillside when Coy suggested a more direct route.
In late 2011, Coy did a favor for a contractor working on the new $16.2 million Strank Memorial Bridge that runs through East Conemaugh and Franklin boroughs.
Brayman Construction Corp. of Butler returned the favor by providing a bulldozer and operator to rough out the new trail’s pathway.
Over the following 18 months, Coy was able to get free use of equipment from East Conemaugh and Franklin boroughs, along with Kenneth Zimmerman’s excavation business in Mineral Point. Phoenix donated hundreds of tons of gravel for the trail surface.
“It started off just me, but I got a lot of help from the community,” Coy said. “It definitely was a community effort.”
Along the way neighbors and strangers observing the work would hand him donations toward the equipment fuel, which he was paying for himself.
Coy said his wife, Rhonda, helped out running errands so he could continue working. She supported his mission despite the time it took him away from her and their three daughters.
The conservation and recreation authority lined up funding and had protective fencing installed along the trail.
Rob McCombie of the Conemaugh Valley Conservancy also was important to the work, Coy said.
“He did some labor, but mostly he made sure things were OK for me to continue working,” Coy said.
McCombie worked with the conservation and recreation authority to address liability insurance issues for Coy’s volunteer hours.
And there were many hours.
Coy tried to put in about three hours a day on the trail work for a year and a half.
“It is every free hour I have,” he said.
“There was nothing here. I wanted something here.”
The results are impressive, Columbus said.
While not as level and smooth as a traditional rail-trail, the rolling pathway takes visitors through patches of wildflowers and presents panoramic views of the historic Little Conemaugh River Valley.
Columbus commended Coy and McCombie for the herculean volunteer effort.
“It is the way we’d like to build all of our trails,” she said.
Randy Griffith is a reporter for The Tribune-Democrat. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/photogriffer57.