The seed of a two-wheel renaissance had been planted in 1975, when the old Chessie System railroad took conservationists, government officials, foundation leaders and the news media on a tour of a soon-to-be-abandoned rail corridor from Pittsburgh to Hancock, Md. The Western Pennsylvania Conservancy purchased 26 miles of it three years later. By 1986, nearly 10 miles of trail had been built from Ohiopyle to near Confluence, drawing thousands of enthusiastic visitors.
Three years after that, the Montour Trail Council was formed to capitalize on the abandonment of the old Montour Railroad line. Then, in 1990, several groups proposed a 12-mile Three Rivers Heritage Trail along the rivers in Pittsburgh.
Little by little, often with agonizing complications, ribbons of trail appeared. The first 4.5 miles of Montour Trail were completed in 1992, followed by another 11.5 miles in 1993 and 1994. The first section of the Heritage Trail was opened in 1994. In 1995, rails to trails groups formed the Allegheny Trail Alliance to pursue completion of a trail from Pittsburgh to Cumberland, Md. The Eliza Furnace Trail from Downtown to Oakland debuted in 1998 in a corridor once occupied by a commuter train to McKeesport.
Just this year, the dream of Pittsburgh-to-Cumberland came true with completion of the last missing link of the Great Allegheny Passage around Sandcastle Waterpark; more than 40 miles of Montour Trail are completed, with just a few missing links in its 46-mile corridor from Coraopolis to Clairton; the Heritage Trail is now 24 miles lining both sides of the Monongahela and Allegheny rivers and the northern side of the Ohio, centered in Pittsburgh but stretching beyond the city lines -- all of it a testament to the vision, ingenuity, perseverance and generosity of countless Western Pennsylvanians.