On a roll: Cycling is the go-to sport for enjoying the outdoors




Whether they’re doing it for health, camaraderie, an activity that’s easy on the joints or simply to get outside, more older people than ever are turning to biking.

In fact, recreational cycling among Americans over 50 jumped 62 percent between 2001 and 2009 and continues to climb, according to the latest statistics available from the National Household Travel Survey, conducted by the Federal Highway Administration.

“There’s been a steady increase in the number of cyclists, especially seniors, in the eight years we have been here,” said Cassie Isaac, 59, who operates the bike rental shop at Moraine State Park in Butler County with her husband, Walter, and daughter, Elizabeth.

The seven-mile trail at Moraine is one of the five lesser-known bike trails in Western Pennsylvania that I selected to highlight here, which I knew was sure to generate critical comments from the dedicated supporters of other trails.

But that was to be expected — and encouraged.

I called on a number of local bike trail enthusiasts, especially Mary Shaw and Roy Weil, authors of the soon-to-be-published latest edition of “Freewheeling Easy in Western Pennsylvania.” The draft is available online at www.freewheelingeasy.com. The final selection was mine.

I have ridden each of these trails. They are worth your time and energy. After your ride, go to the website and tell the trail group about your visit, especially if it could add more directional signage to its trailheads. And consider a donation of time and or money to help maintain the trail.

Now go for it. 

Butler-Freeport Community Trail

Those who start at either end of the 20-mile scenic wooded primarily crushed limestone trail will notice it climbs up a gentle incline for about 10 miles before it begins to go slightly downhill at the Sheetz Drive Trailhead. Elevation: 1,288 feet.

Don’t let the sound of gunfire deter you when passing the Summit Township Sportsman Club. Its shooting range parallels the trail.

The trail follows the right-of-way of the former Butler Branch line of the Western Pennsylvania Railroad, the first railroad built in Butler County. It was completed in 1871 to provide freight and passenger service to Butler.

It overlooks the scenic Buffalo Creek and Little Buffalo Creek for about 11 miles and has 12 convenient access points between Butler and Freeport. Some provide more parking than others.

The Butler-Freeport Trail Council officially opened the trail from Cabot to Sarver on Oct. 4, 1992. Benches or picnic tables are placed at regular intervals in scenic locations and there are seasonal chemical toilets at various trailheads.

Fuel up: The Derailleur Bike Shop Cafe (www.derailleurbsc.com) is an oasis along the trail near Herman. Among other things, proprietors Deedee Stephen and Gavin Archer offer ice cream, hot and iced espresso beverages, biscotti, homemade soups and tamales. Rome’s Country Cafe at the Serene Valley Golf Course also welcomes trail users.

Contact: www.butlerfreeporttrail.org.

Ghost Town Trail

The 44-mile relatively flat crushed limestone Ghost Town Trail in Indiana and Cambria counties got its name from coal mining towns that grew up along the former rights-of-way of two railroads.

Alas, Armerford, Beulah, Bracken, Claghorn. Lackawanna #3, Scott Glenn, Webster and Wehrum are no more. The few remnants remaining are on private property and not open to the public. Wehrum, the largest of the former towns, had 230 houses, a hotel, company store, jail and bank.

This east-west trail got its start in 1991 when the Kovalchick Salvage Co. donated 16 miles of the former Ebensburg & Black Lick Railroad to Indiana County. In 1993 the Cambria & Indiana Railroad donated 4 miles from Rexis to White Mill Station, a spur line known as the Rexis Branch.

An additional 20 miles were added to the trail in 2005 — 12 miles in Indiana County and eight miles in Cambria County. The U.S. Department of the Interior designated it as a National Recreation Trail. It’s part of a group of trails in Western Pennsylvania known as the Trans Allegheny Trails Network.

The Ghost Town Trail officially opened an eight-mile extension on Sept. 26. Known as Stritty’s Way, it runs from the end of the current four-mile Rexis branch spur of the Ghost Town Trail at White Mill Crossing to North Street in Cardiff. It includes a one-tenth of a mile section on Vic Miller Road.

The segments with the steepest grades — up to 3 percent — include Black Lick to Heshbon, Vintondale to Twin Rocks and Nanty Glo to Ebensburg.

“We ride at least a part of it a couple times a year,“ said Bill Hurrianko, 74, of Greensburg, a retired elementary school principal, former teacher and the founder of Bill’s Riders. The latter is a group of bicyclists aged 58 to 82 who ride together up to three times a week.

Mr. Hurrianko, president of the Westmoreland Yough Trail Chapter of the Great Allegheny Passage, meets them on Mondays and Thursdays at the West Newton trailhead for a ride up or down the GAP. He sends an email on weekends with the name of the non-GAP trail for the Tuesday ride.

He likes the Ghost Town Trail because of its history, including Eliza, one of the state’s best preserved iron furnaces, and its tribute to coal miners.

The Miners’ Memorial at the Mine No. 6 Portal, a reconstructed 6-by-12-foot mine portal entrance, stands exactly where the old entrance was located. The life-sized image of men in the middle of a shift-change is etched in black polished stone.

Fuel up: Clem’s Cafe on Route 22 near Blairsville is the hands-down favorite of locals and trail users. It specializes in barbecue, especially pulled pork sandwiches and baby back ribs.

Contact: www.indianacountyparks.org/trails/ghosttown_trail.aspx

Indian Creek Valley Trail

Although this almost eight-mile crushed limestone trail technically starts at the bottom of a short slope below busy Route 31 and its intersection with 381 North in Jones Mills, there’s no place to park near there.

Take conjoined Routes 711/381 South to Champion, turn left onto County Line Road and left again on Roaring Run Road. A small gravel lot about one block down can accommodate about a dozen cars.

Trail maps are available at the bicyclist-friendly Somerset Trust office just down the street. Cashier Melissa Horner said she and her husband, Chad, of nearby Indian Head enjoy walking the trail with Bentley, their 5-year-old chocolate lab.

The trail extends 1.75 miles north toward Route 31 and is worth the effort. From the Champion trailhead, the trail travels south to Melcroft, Indian Head and a gate at the Springfield line border, a distance of about six miles.

It’s an out-and-back trail with alternate sections of sun and shade that follows the former right-of-way of the Indian Creek Valley Railroad. It overlooks the creek, a tributary of the Youghiogheny River, and a number of full-time and part-time residences on the other side of the stream.

“It’s good exercise, especially for people who sit or drive all day,” said Lisa Whipkey, a waitress at the Champion Service Center. Her grandchildren — Brooke, 12, Connor, 11 and Jenna, 7 — join her on the trail. “It’s fun. We love it.”

Saltlick Township plows sections of the trail in the winter for walkers and runners, but doesn’t plow the section between Champion and Jones Mills so cross country skiers can enjoy it.

Fuel up: Champion Service Center at the intersection of Routes 711/381 and County Line Road is open daily for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Locals line up for home-made soups and pies. The take-out menu at the G & D Market in Melcroft includes specialty pizzas, calzones, Stromboli, sandwiches and homemade salads. There is no inside dining.

Contact: www.indiancreekvalleytrail.com/

Moraine State Park

This seven-mile undulating paved asphalt trail weaves through trees that border Lake Arthur. It offers an out-and-back ride with several grades, numerous curves and a few low-traffic road crossings. 

It starts at the Spoke House Bike Rental shop at 157 North Shore Drive and travels 3.5 miles to Lakeview Beach, where bicyclists will find a concession stand, rest rooms, an expansive deck with picnic tables and a great view of the lake and its watercraft.

The trail wiggles another 3.5 miles over occasional sections of rippled asphalt to the no-frills Moraine Outdoor Center (rest rooms, vending machine) near the Davis Hollow launch area. There’s parking at the beginning, middle and end of the trail.

Ms. Isaac, one of the operators of the bike rental shop, said of Moraine: “It’s a great trail, 80 percent of it is in the shade and it’s excellent, at-your-own-pace exercise.”

Barb Berger, 63, of Marshall, agrees. The retired social worker has been riding the trail since 1980 “when the trees were much smaller. It’s quiet, picturesque and not real crowded during the week. We see deer, osprey and turkeys. It’s delightful.”

A yellow line painted in the middle of the 10-foot-wide trail has reduced accidents “by half,” Ms. Isaac said.  The rental shop is open daily Memorial Day through Labor Day and then weekends through Oct 31. Phone 724-368-9011. The bike trail is open year-round.

Fuel up: Brown’s Country Kitchen (724-368-3227) in nearby Portersville has daily specials and homemade soups and pies.

Contact: www.dcnr.state.pa.us/stateparks/findapark/moraine/

Sandy Creek Trail

This scenic 12-mile paved asphalt trail is a delightful surprise.

We found it while riding the Titusville to Emlenton segment of the Allegheny River Trail. It required us to walk our bikes up a wooden track that parallels wooden steps under the Belmar Bridge. We lowered our heads under a steel beam near the top that has conked a few unwary skulls.

The trail, five miles south of Franklin, was built between 2000 and 2005 and has seven bridges and the Deep Valley Tunnel. We headed east along an eight-mile section that overlooks East Sandy Creek to the trailhead near Van.

We retraced our ride back to the Belmar Bridge that soars 1,385 feet over the Allegheny River. It has a wooden deck and railings and provides a great view of the river. The trail continues to Fisherman’s Cove Road where it crosses Big Sandy Creek near the Belmar trailhead.

The Belmar Bridge was built in 1907 as part of a railroad built by local oil man Charles Miller and John D. Rockefeller. It was intended to connect New York with Chicago. Ultimately, it carried much of the coal from Clarion County to Ashtabula on Lake Erie.

There are no facilities on the trail other than occasional benches. The website recommends trail users bring a cell phone — service can be sporadic — and their own food, water, spare inner tube and pump. A first aid kit — and a good helmet — also are good ideas.

Despite my companion’s repeated shouts to “slow down,” I sped up. Paved trails can be so seductive. A whitetail deer bolted across the trail and I jolted off the trail. Howard Emerick of Confluence patched me up. Lesson learned. The helmet spared my head.

Fuel up: Bella Cucina at 1234 Liberty St. in Franklin features seafood specialties. An indoor oak tree adorns the dining room and the side deck overlooks a park. Customers are encouraged to bring their own take-out containers — there will be leftovers — “to help our environment.”

Contact: https://www.avta-trails.org/sandy-creek-trail.html

Lawrence Walsh writes about a variety of outdoor activities for the Post-Gazette.





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