The opportunity for comments from several hundred bicyclists riding the Great Allegheny Passage from Pittsburgh to Cumberland, Md., as part of the 11th Annual Greenway Sojourn wasn't lost on Tom Sexton.
Sexton, director of the Northeast Region Office of the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy, asked leaders of the banking, business, government and tourism communities in the Laurel Highlands to serve as panelists on a Trail Regions Investment Roundtable sponsored by the conservancy and the Trail Town Program.
The roundtable was held on the second floor of the Meyersdale Fire Station on Wednesday evening after the bicyclists enjoyed a pasta dinner provided by the firefighters and the ladies auxiliary.
Henry Cook, president of Somerset Trust Company, a cyclist and a longtime supporter of bike trails, spoke about the challenges the Somerset County Rails-to-Trails Association and the Allegheny Trail Alliance overcame to complete 43 miles of the passage through southern Somerset County.
They included the Big Savage Tunnel, the Keystone and Salisbury viaducts, the Bollman Bridge, the decking and railing of four major bridges over the Casselman River, the concrete underpasses at Garrett and the Eastern Continental Divide and the renovation of the Western Maryland Railway in Meyersdale.
"We dreamed bigger than we understood," Cook said. "The trail has restored our faith in our own backyard. It has brought people to Somerset County from every continent. But there are more things on the trail that we need to do better and that's why we'd like to hear from you."
There were numerous requests for more and better signage, especially in downtown Pittsburgh and McKeesport, that would direct bicyclists to the trail, to nearby parking areas and to services in nearby trail towns.
One cyclist pointed out that riding from the Rockwood trailhead to the town involved leaving the trail, riding on a two-lane road over the Casselman River, across two sets of active railroad tracks, up a short hill and then down another two-lane road into town.
But where are the signs to direct riders to and from the business district?
Judy Pletcher, a panelist who owns the Rockwood Mill Shoppes and Opera House, said more signs, painted bike lanes, lights on the bridge and welcoming flags would be helpful.
She said PennDOT would have to approve anything on the road or bridge.
Cook said signage on the passage is "a balancing act. You want to be as informative as possible, but you don't want to pollute the trail with signs. They have to be tasteful. You don't want to destroy the pristine nature of the trail."
The cyclists also said they would like "a more consistent, better quality [crushed limestone] trail surface"; fresh water along the trail; consistent cell phone signals or emergency call boxes; access to WiFi in trail towns; more shuttle services; money-saving lodging packages by a cooperative of B&Bs and guest houses; more Adirondack shelters; more camp sites along the trail and more mountain bike trails in local and state parks that link to the passage.
Cook said he would like to see spur trails from the passage to the Flight 93 Memorial and the Quecreek Mine site where nine miners were rescued, both in Somerset County; and the Frank Lloyd Wright-designed homes Fallingwater and Kentuck Knob, both in Fayette County.
"There's a lot more than can be done," he said.
After noting that the answers to some of the questions raised during the meeting are available on the websites of the passage and the conservancy, Sexton said long-distance bicyclists who do their homework will enjoy a better experience as they pedal the 150 mile passage.
Larry Walsh writes about recreational bicycling for the Post-Gazette.