Advocacy group focuses on condition of North Park's trails

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North Park's trail system has come a long way since the Pittsburgh Trails Advocacy Group was founded in 2001, says Andy Baechle, director of Allegheny County's Department of Parks.

Mr. Baechle said he remembers when a rambling collection of rogue trails through the park's forests was the norm.

"Things are much better than they used to be for North Park's hikers, mountain bikers and equestrians," he said at the June 5 Friends of North Park meeting, which featured a presentation by trails group representative Jamie Pfaeffle about better quality trails, better signage and continued maintenance.

"When PTAG builds trails, they follow strict rules, according to International Mountain Bicycling Association guidelines," said Dr. Pfaeffle, an orthopedic hand surgeon.

Totaling 3,075 acres and encompassing McCandless, Hampton and Pine, North Park is the largest of Allegheny County's nine parks. Thanks to the efforts of trails group volunteers, North Park now boasts 43 miles of linked-loop-system, single-track trails.

Dr. Pfaeffle, of Pine, who is also a mountain biker and engineer, was instrumental in developing the Dr. J Freeride Trail and Free- ride Skills Park and the new North Ridge Trail, which have been ongoing projects with Allegheny County for the past four years and are nearing completion.

The trails group plans to finish the Skills Park and new construction on the Dr. J Trail -- named after Dr. Pfaeffle -- this year. After this work is completed, the group will continue to inspect and maintain the Freeride area.

Dr. Pfaeffle outlined additional projects, which will include the reduction of redundant trails. "Less trails means that they will be of higher quality and easier to maintain," he said. Kiosks that feature maps, trail information and rules of etiquette will be installed at trail heads.

Appealing to a wide variety of users, these trails offer extreme mountain biking on South Ridge, meandering paths for hikers on West Ridge and around Parish Hill, a cross-country skiing track near the golf course, scenic educational trails through the swampy terrain around the Latodami Nature Center and steep, twisty paths that pose a challenge on North Ridge.

"It's become a coherent, navigable system," said Dr. Pfaeffle, adding that people are encouraged to report downed trees or other hazardous conditions to PTAGTrails.org.

Because there are many random markings throughout the park's trails, Mr. Baechle noted that the county has a universal blazing system, and a uniform signage system is currently in the works.

"There are unauthorized markers everywhere," he said. "No one has the right to mark the parks without permission."

One attendee suggested that people use a flour and water mixture to make temporary, environmentally friendly markings for race events.

This year, the group's North Park Steward team will be focusing on closure and improvement efforts for the "purple" blazed trails in the West Ridge area, said Dr. Pfaeffle. This is the area that's bordered by West Ridge, Kummer Road, Ingomar Road and Babcock Boulevard. He referred to a section called the Koto Buki trail, which is named after a former restaurant nearby, noting that the trail needs to be improved.

"PTAG would like to improve Koto Buki as an [International Mountain Bicycling Association] style 'flow trail,' to help complement the North Park Freeride area," he said. A flow trail is a downhill trail that lets riders roll without stopping and flow from one part of the trail to another, he said.

"IMBA has been promoting flow trails as a solution for less-advanced riders to enjoy flowing trails with features that are technically less difficult and safer than traditional Freeride trails," he said.

With Mr. Baechle's approv-al, the trails group is applying for a grant from the bicycling association to establish the flow trail at Koto Buki.

Future improvements to trails on North Ridge, South Ridge, the golf course and Latodami Nature Center are planned along with ongoing maintenance, Dr. Pfaeffle said.

Mr. Baechle said the trails group makes his job much easier.

"PTAG has grown to include CEO's of companies, doctors and other professional people who are happy to go around hauling things in the woods," he said. The group goes a long way to controlling behavior on the trails.

neigh_north

Jill Cueni-Cohen, freelance writer: suburbanliving@post-gazette.com.


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