Bridge spanning the Pennsylvania Turnpike on the Laurel Highlands Trail.
By Shannon M. Nass Special to the Post-Gazette
Outdoor enthusiasts who traverse the Laurel Highlands Hiking Trail are hiking, skiing and snowmobiling for joy. They are celebrating the Jan. 28 completion of a new bridge that spans the Pennsylvania Turnpike and rejoins the 70-mile trail stretching along Laurel Mountain from the Youghiogheny River at Ohiopyle to the Conemaugh Gorge near Johnstown.
Terry Brady, deputy press secretary for the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR), said the bridge has been long-awaited and much anticipated by those who traverse the trail.
"They love it," he said. "It's a very, very popular trail ... through the heart of some of our prettiest of state park and state forest land in that area."
The bridge project was awarded last March and totaled nearly $1.3 million for work on the 10-foot-wide, 184-foot-long span.
The previous structure had been built in 1970 but was closed in late 2009 and dismantled after an inspection found conditions that could endanger hikers and snowmobilers using the bridge, as well as commuters passing beneath.
"It was in really bad shape both for the users of the bridge and passersby on the turnpike," Brady said. "It was starting to literally fall apart."
The new bridge, located midway between the turnpike's Somerset and Donegal interchanges between mileposts 36 and 37, reconnects various trail systems in the Laurel Highlands and facilitates foot traffic as well as snowmobilers and cross-country skiers.
Bicycles and horses remain prohibited from the trail. Brady said all-terrain vehicles also are not allowed on the bridge.
"What it won't allow to cross -- the way it's designed -- is ATVs," said Brady. "The trail is off-limits to ATVs, and we don't want ATVs using [the bridge]."
To ensure their exclusion, Brady said the bridge was designed with a step-down ledge that prevents them from crossing.
With through passage again possible, Brady said he hopes the bridge, which is owned by the Bureau of State Parks, will encourage more people to get out and use the trail.
"That trail is just incredible," he said. "The idea is just to get people out, especially during nice weather."