Ride, festivities planned on last leg of Great Allegheny Passage

Work ends gap in trail

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Linda McKenna Boxx and Jack Paulik will celebrate years of dedication and work by pedaling more than 330 miles on a weeklong bicycle ride.

It may seem an odd way to celebrate, but Ms. McKenna Boxx of Ligonier and Mr. Paulik of Derry Township have been instrumental in the design and completion of the Great Allegheny Passage -- and that's where they'll be riding.

The 150-mile-long trail passes through Allegheny, Westmore-land, Fayette and Somerset counties and connects with the 184-mile C&O Canal Towpath in Cumberland, Md., to create a 334-mile connection between Pittsburgh and Washington, D.C.

"It took us six years to get the last 9 miles completed. Of the whole 150 miles, that was the hardest part," Mr. Paulik, project manager for the Allegheny Trail Alliance, said.

To celebrate, Ms. McKenna Boxx, president of the alliance, and Mr. Paulik will join about 35 others Saturday to start "Point Made! Passage to Pittsburgh Celebration Ride" in Washington, D.C. The ride will take a week, and bikers plan to arrive in Pittsburgh in time for a "Point Made!" ceremony at 10 a.m. June 15 at the Sandcastle section of the trail in Homestead. At 11 a.m., cyclists will then bike 6.5 miles to Point State Park.

"There, folks can grab a bite to eat, enjoy the Three Rivers Arts Festival, then still have time to come back to the Point for a 1 p.m. dedication of the Western Terminus Marker of the GAP," Ms. McKenna Boxx said.

More than 1,000 riders are expected to take part in the portion of the ride from Homestead to the Point.

"It isn't a race, it is a celebration. We are calling it the 'Parade to the Point' and are hoping people will decorate their bikes or helmets."

The completion of the Great Allegheny Passage has been a long time coming, the two cyclists noted.

Ms. McKenna Boxx said she began working on it in 1995 while volunteering with the Regional Trail Corp.

In 1982, when she began working at her family's foundation, the Katherine Mabis McKenna Foundation, she was charged by her father to do volunteer work as well as administration of the foundation.

"He told me you can't do philanthropy by sitting behind the desk all day," she said.

She started volunteering for the Regional Trail Corp. and found that the goal to create one linked trail was impeded because many organizations were working on various sections of the trail, but one cohesive group didn't exist.

"I know from my own foundation work that it is too cumbersome to fundraiser for things with so many names," she said.

"We knew that to get these trails together and to complete the vision of a Pittsburgh-to-D.C. trail, we had to work together, not separately," she said. On Nov. 1, 1995, the Allegheny Trail Alliance was formed as a chapter for the Regional Trail Corp. Seven trail organizations comprise the alliance.

Mr. Paulik said the last 9 miles of the Great Allegheny Passage proved to be the trickiest.

"We had to obtain permission and easements on 28 properties. Plus, we had to build three bridges, one tunnel and a huge retaining wall," he said.

Mr. Paulik estimated that the completion of the last 9 miles cost more than $13 million.

"There were times that I thought maybe this was a task that couldn't be completed, but we are able to accomplish our goal," he said.

Ms. McKenna Boxx took a short ride on the section by Sandcastle Park a few weeks ago and said she was "grinning" the whole time.

"I just kept thinking, 'This is fantastic.' I couldn't believe how many people were out there using it," she said.

Ms. McKenna Boxx believes more than 50,000 cyclists will complete trips between D.C. and Pittsburgh this year.

She said completion of the Great Allegheny Passage will help bring economic growth to the communities along the trail. A guide, "The Trail Book," compiled by the alliance lists local bed-and-breakfasts, hotels, restaurants, shops and points of interests along the trail.

"The trail is helping those communities redefine who they are," Ms. McKenna Boxx said.

For more information: www.atatrail.org/finalmile.cfm.

neigh_east - neigh_south - neigh_westmoreland

Kathleen Ganster, freelance writer: suburbanliving@post-gazette.com.


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