Grant Awarded for Trail Study, Expansion

Times Leader
27 December 2011
By Brigid Beatty

The Armstrong Trail is one step closer to connecting with Clarion County as a result of a grant approved by the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources Community Conservation Partnership Program.

According to Ron Steffey, executive director of the Allegheny Valley Land Trust, grant money has been awarded for two Rails-to-Trails projects that will provide greater access to some unique features along the railroad corridor, with the potential to create new revenue in the area.

More people have been traveling to the area from Pittsburgh, Steffey said.

They contribute to the trails and spend money at local restaurants and businesses. Local volunteers who work on portions of the trail provide greater incentive for the state to invest in the county, and local businesses who supply materials for the trail benefit financially.

"It's part of the puzzle for the economic development of the area," said Steffey.

For Steffey, creating links along the Armstrong Trail has a lot to do with collaboration and networking.

"That's the way to use public funding, to get the most bang for your buck," he said.

But it is apparent that people like Steffey, who promote and use the trail, are also passionate about the landscape and history of Western Pennsylvania.

Outdoor enthusiasts are drawn to the trail for many reasons, said Steffey.

People can bike, walk and cross-country ski. In the spring, wildflowers are abundant along stretches of the trail. The river is accessible in many places for fishing and kayaking. Bird watchers can observe seasonal migrations, bald eagles and the habits of cavity dwelling birds.

The first project involves a five-mile stretch between mile post 61 in Madison Township, Armstrong County, and mile post 66 in Brady Township, Clarion County.

A $293,000 grant was awarded for that section of the trail for grading and surfacing using crushed limestone. It will provide accessibility for people with disabilities, and will fund landscaping. A pedestrian and bicycle lane which crosses the Redbank Creek Bridge will be constructed. The bridge spans the creek and connects Armstrong and Clarion counties. The Allegheny Land Trust matched the grant with $70,000 in services and cash, Steffey said.

Steffey said he hopes the project will be completed by 2013. At that point, only two miles of trail will need to be finished -- from Rimer to Lock and Dam 9. That last link in the trail will mean 30 continuous miles connecting Ford City and East Brady.

The second grant amounts to $70,000 and was awarded for a feasibility study on rehabilitating the half-mile Brady Tunnel for the Armstrong Trail. The 22-foot-high tunnel is closed to the public because of structural concerns.

The study will involve evaluations by geologists, engineers and other experts to see how the tunnel can be made safe for use, Steffey said.

Opening the tunnel for public use will link the Allegheny River Trail with Foxburg, Franklin and Oil City, with the goal of extending a connection to the shores of Lake Erie, Steffey said.

In 2003, Steffey said, the trail just beyond Phillipston in Clarion County was so choked with vegetation it was almost impossible to get through, but volunteers have made a big difference since then. Thanks to their efforts, a train turntable, one of several historic focal points along the trail, has been uncovered. Straddling the trail just beyond the turntable is a coaling tower that once functioned as a coal refueling station for steam-powered locomotives. And dotting the hillside through a tangle of trees and brambles are beehive coke ovens.

Steffey said he hopes that the areas can be preserved as historic focal points along the trail.

DCNR Deputy Secretary Cindy Dunn said in a news release that "these grants allow us to partner with communities so that they can expand and improve the wonderful assets that make the places we call home vibrant and attractive."

Brigid Beatty can be reached at or .