When former Pittsburgh Mayor Tom Murphy planned his first Pittsburgh-to-Washington D.C. ride along the Great Allegheny Passage and the C&O Canal Towpath in 1999, he called upon Eric Martin to help organize the trip.
Martin, co-owner of Wilderness Voyageurs in Ohiopyle, had organized road rides in central Pennsylvania but never had put together a 335-mile trip. It was a learning experience for all concerned.
"If our daily plan was tossed out, we'd put together another one," he said. "It was a challenging trip."
But it was the start of a new business for the evolving commercial rafting company that now organizes bike trips in Pennsylvania, Maryland, West Virginia, Virginia, Colorado and Missouri with tour development under way in Washington, Texas and Idaho.
Martin's willingness to "try something new" and "venture into uncharted areas" has earned him the Laurel Highlands Tourism Trailblazer of the Year award from the Laurel Highlands Visitors Bureau.
"Eric has brought a true trailblazer spirit to Wilderness Voyageurs, Ohiopyle and to the Laurel Highlands," said Ron Virag, executive director of the bureau.
"Under Eric's leadership, the company has greatly expanded its offerings, [including] interpretive trips for senior citizens, curriculum-based school field trips and inn-to-inn bike tours," Virag said.
Martin, 43, said he transformed a family-owned rafting company started by his parents, Lance and Lee, "from a one-trick pony to the premiere outfitter in the region." It operates white water trips on 15 rivers in three states, fly-fishing instruction and trips and nationwide bike tours.
"I am totally honored to receive this award," Martin said. "I didn't even know that I had been nominated for this first-ever award until Ron walked into our outfitter store and told me that I had won it."
It has been an award-winning year for the company Martin owns and operates with his sister, Lynne Martin, who is the co-owner and chief financial officer, and his wife, Kasia Martin, who handles retail operations and the website. The company also operates Falls City Pub, Trillium Lodge and Rapid Java.
National Geographic Traveler magazine selected the company's nine-day Civil War Bike Tour as one of 50 "Trips of a Lifetime" in 2012. And the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy selected it to be its partner in the production and marketing of its annual Greenway Sojourn.
Martin, who earned a degree in international recreation marketing from the University of Maryland, competed in white water slalom kayaking as a 10-year member of the U.S. national team. He spends as much time as he can on rivers and bike trails.
Comedy Night, one of the more unusual and fun fundraisers for a trail group, will be from 6- 9:30 p.m. Nov. 10 at the Scottdale Fireman's Club in Scottdale.
The event will feature professional comedians Terry Jones, Mark Riccadonna and Josh Copen, a 50/50 drawing and a Chinese Auction. Proceeds will benefit the Coal & Coke Trail Chapter of the Regional Trail Corporation.
The $25 cost includes a buffet dinner catered by Leo & Sons Grille 31 (www.grille31.com). Tickets, which must be purchased in advance, are available at Leo & Sons Grille 31, The Village Restaurant, Miss Martha's Tea Room and Standard Bank in Mount Pleasant and Scottdale.
The 6-mile trail links Scottdale and Mount Pleasant in Westmoreland County. It was built on the former right-of-way of the Pennsylvania Railroad. In the early 1900s, the Pennsy shipped coal and coke from the region to markets throughout the country.
For more information or to volunteer to help with the dinner, call Robert Keeler at 724-547-3121.
Larry Walsh writes about recreational bicycling for the Post-Gazette.