It took years longer than anyone expected and a bit more work remains to be done, but it is now possible to bike about 135 continuous miles along the Great Allegheny Passage from McKeesport to Cumberland, Md.
A nine-mile section of the passage -- from Woodcock Hollow to Cumberland -- was completed on Monday. It was celebrated yesterday with a traditional ribbon-cutting ceremony behind the renovated red brick Western Maryland Railway station in Cumberland. There will be more festivities in the spring.
"It's finished! The trail is built and it is beautiful," declared the Web site of the Allegheny Highlands Trail Maryland -- www.ahtmtrail.org. The organization is a member of the Allegheny Trail Alliance, a coalition of seven rail-trail groups building and/or maintaining the non-motorized, multipurpose trail.
The trail has a crushed limestone surface on most of its sections and an asphalt surface in most parts of Pittsburgh. It connects in Cumberland with the C&O Tow Path, a 182.5-mile trail that ends in the Georgetown section of Washington, D.C.
The final segment of the Great Allegheny Passage will link McKeesport to West Homestead. It hasn't been determined whether the trail will go through or around Sandcastle water park.
The trail now runs from Point State Park to the South Side and then to the beginning of a 100-foot-long stretch of fist-sized ballast just west of the Glenwood Bridge. The ballast is between several sets of Norfolk Southern railroad tracks and a chain link fence that borders a storage yard at a construction company.
Some bicyclists now use heavily traveled Route 837 to ride from the Glenwood Bridge to McKeesport, but most consider the narrow and rough road too dangerous. They prefer to park in McKeesport or Boston and pedal to and from a series of towns along the former Western Maryland Railway that paralleled the Youghiogheny and Casselman rivers.
Bicyclists who want to pedal the 135 continuous miles from McKeesport to Cumberland can do so until next Friday. That's when the 3,300 foot long Big Savage Tunnel will be closed for the winter. It was scheduled to be closed tomorrow but is being kept open because of the unusually mild weather.
The weather has been beneficial to the contracting company working on the bicycle/pedestrian bridge that is connected to and parallels the Hot Metal Bridge across the Monongahela River between the South Side and Hazelwood. It will link the Eliza Furnace Trail near Hazelwood.
Work also is continuing on sections of the Montour Trail, a 46-mile trail that when completed will link Coraopolis and Clairton. More than 40 miles of the trail are finished, but there are significant gaps, the largest of which in Cecil and Peters townships is two miles long. A ground-breaking ceremony on that section was held Oct. 22.
Lawrence Walsh can be reached at email@example.com and 412-263-1488.