Much work must be done on region's bike-hike trails

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Trails that were the domain of mountain bikers, hikers and runners were transformed last month into a winter wonderland for cross country skiers and snowshoers.

Many trails have remained this way, buried by the snow and a low priority for public works departments, who placed their primary focus on clearing roadways.

On Sunday, David Biber of Bellevue, a mountain biker and a founding member of the Pittsburgh Trails Advocacy Group, worked for 31/2 hours, with two other volunteers, to reclaim part of the trails, buried under more than a foot of snow, at Hillman State Park in Washington County.

They removed trees, branches and snow from the narrow pathway, clearing about four miles of the park's 30 miles of trails.

"We made a scratch," he said.

The group, founded in 2001 and a project of Bike Pittsburgh, helps maintain 130 miles of multi-use trails in Western Pennsylvania, contributing volunteers to supplement the work of parks maintenance staff.

With so many trails blocked by branches and covered in snow, the volunteers have a lot of work left to do.

"We are trying to get ahead of the game, so to speak, with tree removal from the trails so that people don't go around fallen trees and change the character of the trail," Mr. Biber said.

Within the city of Pittsburgh, the Department of Public Works is responsible for clearing many of the city's trails, but the paths are prioritized below tertiary roadways, director Rob Kaczorowski said, so many of them remain untouched following the barrage of snowstorms last month.

Thomas Baxter, executive director of Friends of the Riverfront, which supports the 21 miles of the Three Rivers Heritage Trail, said about five miles have been plowed already, and he believes the remaining 16 will be plowed by the end of the week.

"In an urban area, a lot of people are using these trails for commuting, and not just recreation, so it is important to clear these trails," he said.

Last Friday, he visited several trail sections and noticed several large trees were down near Heinz Lofts on the North Shore, and also on the South Side between 10th and 18th streets.

He encouraged other trail travelers to contact the Public Works Department through its website or the city's 311 non-emergency call center to identify exact areas of the trail where trees are down.

Work on the North Shore Trail addition was halted over the last few weeks due to the snow, but should resume today and is scheduled for completion by the end of May.

The Great Allegheny Passage, which connects Pittsburgh to Cumberland, Md., also had some trails blocked by fallen trees and branches, but volunteers have been cleaning them up, said Linda McKenna Boxx, president of the Allegheny Trail Alliance.

The next step is to wait for the inevitable melting, which could cause flooding and damage to trails in the region.

"We just have to wait and see," she said. "There's nothing you can do about it. Be ready for what happens, then get our act together and fix it."

But the limestone dust composition of the trails makes the paths, for the most part, self-healing, she said.

The Three Rivers Heritage Trail is built above the 100-year flood plain, Mr. Baxter said, but if there is a once-in-a-century flood, the trail's signs, benches and garbage cans are all designed to withstand the waters.

Trails in the region's parks will likely be muddy through March and April, Mr. Biber said, and could be treacherous in some places, possibly changing the makeup of some pathways.

"It's going to be a difficult spring, compared to years past," he said. "We're going to have a lot of unanticipated work."

People who want to volunteer to clear park trails can visit PTAG's website at

Until melting or snow removal occurs, many trails will remain a haven for skiers and snowshoers.

"This winter has been a dream come true," said Gary Rigdon, the chair of the Friends of North Park and one person who has traded his mountain bike for cross-country skis this winter.

Kaitlynn Riely: or 412-263-1707. First Published March 1, 2010 5:00 AM


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