So what were the Top 10 challenges of the 150-mile long Great Allegheny Passage from Point State Park to Cumberland, Md.?
Linda McKenna Boxx, president of the Allegheny Trail Alliance, a coalition of rail-trail organizations that built and maintain the trail, provided the following:
1. "Getting the money ($12.5 million) for the Big Savage Tunnel. I could write a book," she said. "This was the absolute biggest challenge. It came close to not happening." It's completion created "the imperative to demand a way through the Mon Valley" from McKeesport to Pittsburgh.
2. A property easement in southern Somerset County. "This held up trail construction east of Confluence for years, and it was never a sure thing."
3. Naming the Great Allegheny Passage. "It took us five years and 100 people suggesting dozens and dozens of names."
4. "Trying to build the feel of a 'system' [and the] universal use of the name by the trail groups and media ... so we could effectively market/brand the trail [along with the] development and usage of consistent sign designs.
5. "Obstacles through the Steel Valley section, including:
6. "The Riverton Bridge.
7. "Norfolk Southern property.
10. "Only having seven days a week to dedicate to the trail."
Boxx said the passage could not have been completed without bringing Jack Paulik out of retirement to manage construction through the Steel Valley.
"Without Jack, I don't know where this would be," she said. "I can guarantee we would not be opening the trail on June 15."
She said Paulik's tireless efforts and fundraising success, made the passage possible from McKeesport through Sandcastle, Keystone Metals and West Homestead. Thanks to "great support" from foundations, state departments of conservation and natural resources and transportation and Allegheny County, "we were able to give Jack the freedom to just keep building, knowing that the bills would be paid as fast as he could line up construction."
Although she always acknowledges the work of "thousands of volunteers" for making the trail a reality, it would not have been completed without Boxx.
Bicyclists can show their appreciation for her and others at one, two or all three Point Made! events June 15 -- a ribbon-cutting ceremony at Sandcastle at 10 a.m., a 7-mile ride from Sandcastle to Point State Park beginning at 11 a.m. and/or attending the 1 p.m. presentation and unveiling of the marker at The Point. If you can make any or all the events, email PointMadeRide@comcast.net.
If you haven't pedaled from the Pump House toward McKeesport or Pittsburgh, the Steel Valley Trail Council is playing host to "leisurely" rides beginning at the Pump House at 6:30 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays.
Council member George Schmidt will lead the rides and point out historic landmarks along the way. The Steel Valley Trail includes the final mile of the Great Allegheny Passage through Sandcastle Waterpark and Keystone Metals. Schmidt will stop where the Three Rivers Heritage Trail segment of the passage begins so riders can look for the bald eagles nesting on the hillside across from the trail.
Counting on you
Almost 1,700 users of the Great Allegheny Passage were counted by volunteers between noon and 2 p.m. May 25 at 15 locations between Pittsburgh and Cumberland, Md., according to Chad Crumrine, a Trail Town Outreach Corps Fellow of The Progress Fund. If you'd like to help with the trail counts, call Crumrine at 724-216-9160, Ext. 317.
Larry Walsh writes about recreational bicycling for the Post-Gazette.