The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

November 10, 2007

Residents angry over trail extension

By RANDY GRIFFITH

Angie Williams of Riverside has vivid memories of an encounter with a mental patient on the James Mayer Riverswalk Trail just outside the village.

“He was waiting for me,” Williams said of the man, who was put on probation for an indecent exposure conviction.

When she and her husband, Tim, learned that a trail extension to Greenhouse Park would come virtually through their Liberty Avenue home’s side yard, the couple joined the trail’s opposition.

“It’s opening up our neck of the woods to anybody who wants to come through,” Williams said.

The Williams’ neighbors, John and Lori Yarnevic, helped lead a petition drive, gathering at least 130 signatures of neighbors opposed to the trail extension. They will present the petition at Tuesday’s Stonycreek Township commissioners meeting, set to begin at 7 p.m.

“We do not want all this traffic running through our village here in Riverside,” Lori Williams said. The couple also cited problems on the 1.2-mile Mayer Riverswalk, which connects Riverside to Johnstown’s Moxham section.

Joe Brett of Riverside enjoys using recreational trails and supports the idea of a trail to Greenhouse Park that would eventually extend to Windber.

“I sure do,” Brett said. “I guess I am in the minority in this community.”

Most of those attending an Oct. 23 informational meeting seemed to oppose the planned extension, township Commissioner Robert Orris of Riverside said.

Orris said he called for the meeting after commissioners learned of the plan to designate existing streets and alleys through Riverside to bring bicyclists and hikers to a new trail section beginning at the northwest end of Liberty Avenue.

The new trail is proposed by the Conemaugh Valley Conservancy’s Stonycreek Quemahoning Initiative in connection with its Stonycreek River Whitewater Park and Quemahoning Whitewater Release projects.

“We heard at that (Oct. 23) meeting: ‘We’re against it,’” Orris said. “It’s our job to do what the people want, so we’ll have to go from there.”

The vocal opposition came as a surprise, said Skip Picking, chairman of the Stonycreek Quemahoning Initiative. An extensive feasibility study three years ago included several public meetings, including one at the Riverside fire hall.

“We were thinking we were proposing something good,” Picking said.

Much of the opposition focused on negative feelings about the James Mayer Riverswalk, Picking said.

“The experience with the Mayer Trail hasn’t been completely positive,” Picking conceded.

“We kind of understand their position,” he said. “It is not well taken care of.”

To fight the trail’s negative image, Picking’s group hopes to organize a “friends of the trail” committee to patrol and maintain the Riverswalk to help the Riverside community see it as an asset.

“They are the ones who have to live with it,” Picking said. “We have to regroup and figure out how we can be of some assistance.”

Clark Fisher of Fisher Consulting in Johnstown said he looked into a route that would bypass Riverside and follow Route 403 to Greenhouse Park when he did the 2004 feasibiity study.

The plan was scrapped because of steep terrain, but another bypass route across a hilltop near Eisenhower Boulevard remains an possibility. Fisher said he didn't fully explore that option in 2004 because there was no opposition to the cheapest route through Riverside.

It will take some serious work to convince Dorothy Seth that Riverside needs another trail.

She has lived in her Tunnel Avenue duplex for 50 years and appreciates the village’s small-town security. Neighbors know neighbors and can spot outsiders as soon as they turn off of Eisenhower Boulevard, Riverside’s only through street.

“We know when there’s a stranger here now,” Seth said. “We won’t know who’s coming and going.”

Although she and her late husband welcomed the Riverswalk, the situation is different today, she said.

“They ruined that trail,” Seth said.

Extending the trail will compound the problem, she fears.

“We’ll have all the riff-raff from Moxham coming over here,” she said.

Stonycreek Police Chief David Dunkleberger lives in the village and agrees the Riverswalk has brought a few problems. There were a few cars broken into near the trailhead, and two reports of indecent exposure. One led to an arrest.

“Riverside has always been a very quiet neighborhood,” Dunkleberger said. “We don’t have a lot of criminal-related calls in Riverside. We never have.”

A “very small fraction” of trail users create problems, Dunkleberger said.

Some problems have to be addressed before work begins, Brett said. He wants to see an acceptable route through town and a plan to address vehicle parking questions. He’s not worried about undesirables.

“I’m not riff-raff,” Brett said. “Riff-raff aren’t the hiking type.

“The trail people I meet are all good people who appreciate the trails and take care of them.”