Twenty years to the week when the wraps were taken off plans for development of the Ghost Town Trail in Cambria and Indiana counties, trail enthusiasts gathered Friday to draw attention to an even more ambitious goal.
At separate news conferences in Cambria, Indiana and Blair counties, trail operators announced the launch of the Trans Allegheny Trails – 13 existing rail-to-trails that have been combined to form a single system.
A part of the system will be a stepped-up effort to find funding and volunteers allowing – someday – to have the 13 trails connected for uninterrupted use, said Dee Columbus, executive director of the Cambria County Conservation and Recreation Authority.
“Funding is very competitive, but we have a lot of volunteers constructing the trails,” Columbus said following the announcement in Ebensburg.
Earlier in the day, officials announced the trail system in Saltsburg and later in the afternoon in Williamsburg.
In a reverse of traditional ribbon cuttings, bicyclists on each side of a strip of concrete brought a green ribbon together and knotted the ends to signify the joining of the trails and the many agencies developing and overseeing them.
It was during the 2011 Rails-to-Trails ninth annual Greenway Sojourn involving many of the trails that a common bond was realized, Columbus said.
“After that, the trail leaders got together and we decided we would work off the energy from that project,” she said. “We decided we would work to physically connect these trails and that is our long-term goal for the system.”
By late 2011, the trail people had named the system Trans Allegheny Trails and developed a logo.
The trails stretch from outside Pittsburgh eastward to the Bellwood and Williamsburg areas of Blair County.
Initial efforts will be made to link those trails closest to one another. For example, linking the Ghost Town Trail to Path of the Flood.
The trails and the effort to form a single system shows the importance of trails and the outdoors, said Cambria County President Commissioner Douglas Lengenfelder.
Equally important is the cooperative spirit of many people, he said.
“This is an outstanding example of how different organizations come together and do what is good for our community,” he said.
Commissioner Mark Wissinger said he was in full agreement with the idea and potential impact.
Commissioner Thomas Chernisky, who said he uses the trail on a regular basis, said the economic impact from a well-developed trail system can be significant.
“I’ve run into people on the trails from Ohio and all over, and it has an impact,” Chernisky said.
The overall impact to Indiana County has been so significant that the word “trails” has been included in the name of the Indiana County Parks and Trails, said executive director Ed Patterson.
“One thing we’ve found time and again is that these trails are an attraction,” Patterson said.
Of Cambria County and especially the Ebensburg area, Patterson said: “People came in the 1800s for the air and the scenary, and now they’re coming back.”
Kathy Mellott is a reporter for The Tribune-Democrat. Follow her on Twitter at twitter.com/kathymellotttd.
Existing trails that will be part of Trans Allegheny Trails:
• Path of the Flood
• Jim Mayer Riverswalk
• Ghost Town
• Staple Bend
• 6 to 10
• West Penn
• Blairsville Riverfront
• Westmoreland Heritage
• Apollo’s Kiski Riverfront
• Roaring Run
• Bells Gap