Another project looms for Parke

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Hank Parke, a co-founder of the Somerset County Rails-to-Trails Association, has been honored for his work with that organization and numerous others.

As he accepted the 2014 Distinguished Citizen Award April 10 from the Laurel Highlands Council of the Boy Scouts of America, he said one more project -- the Pinkerton Tunnel -- needs to be completed on the 42-mile stretch of the Great Allegheny Passage that travels through Somerset County.

The 849-foot tunnel connects the Pinkerton Low Bridge over the Casselman River on the upstream side of the tunnel to the Pinkerton High Bridge on the downstream side.

Bicyclists now use a 1.5-mile detour around the tunnel, which has been closed since the 1970s because of its deteriorating condition. The portals are blocked to keep trespassers out. The tunnel is between the Fort Hill and Markleton trailheads of the passage.

"We can do it," Parke said, a phrase he has often used to launch other projects in his capacity as president of SCRTA, former executive director of the Somerset County Chamber of Commerce and former president of the Rotary Club of Somerset and Laurel Arts.

Parke, 63, a community relations officer for the Somerset Trust Company, volunteers his time for a dozen other organizations.

He said the concept of "giving back to the community" was instilled in him by his parents, George and Helen Parke, co-founders of Hidden Valley Resort where the dinner honoring him was held.

"My dad, who often flew by the seat of his pants, had a git-er-done attitude long before Larry the Cable Guy," he said. "And my mom was a multitasker before that phrase was invented."

Parke said he worked with attorney George Kaufman and Greg Chiappelli, former executive director of the Somerset County Chamber of Commerce, to form SCRTA in the late 1980s.

He said former Somerset County commissioner Dave Mankamyer suggested building a trail between Rockwood and Markleton because that 6-mile stretch of the old Western Maryland Railway right-of-way was nearly level and had no costly bridges or tunnels to repair.

"It was a great idea," Parke said. "People came out, enjoyed it and wanted to know when other segments would be completed. "Linda [McKenna Boxx] formed the Allegheny Trail Alliance, priorities were established and now only the Pinkerton Tunnel remains to be completed."

He said tax-deductible contributions can be sent to SCRTA, PO Box 413, Somerset, PA, 15501. Gifts of $500 or more will be acknowledged on a plaque at the tunnel.

Information: www.gaptrail.org; 1-888-282-2453.

Drive with care

Sunday is the last day to donate to Bike Pittsburgh's "Drive With Care" advertising campaign to remind motorists to be alert for bicyclists and pedestrians.

The goal is to raise $50,000 to pay for ads on billboards, buses and bus shelters and for website development and apps creation, said Becca Susman, membership and outreach manager for Bike Pittsburgh.

"When we have asked [bicyclists] what steps are needed to make [them] feel better about biking in our city, the recurring response has been driver outreach to reduce aggressive encounters," Susman said.

Information: www.bikepgh.org/care; email info@bikepgh.org; 412-325-4334; 412-325-4335.

Eagle ride

Join me from 2 p.m. to 6 p.m. April 27 for an 8-mile bike tour to see the bald eagle nest from the Three Rivers Heritage Trail.

A National Aviary ornithologist will explain the significance of the urban nest, the birds' behavior and their current status. Bring binoculars and a camera.

We'll depart from and return to Southside Riverfront Park. The tour is one of the continuing education workshops offered by the Post-Gazette. The cost is $35. To register, visit www.post-gazette.com/pgu or call 412-263-1741.

Larry Walsh writes about recreational bicycling for the Post-Gazette.


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