The Greenway Sojourn, the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy's annual bike ride, will cover new ground as it leads more than 300 bicyclists and support staff through three states on a 191-mile ride beginning Sunday in Weirton, W.Va. and concluding Friday in Cumberland, Md.
The sojourn will use the Panhandle and Montour trails for the first time in its 12-year history and will wrap up the ride on the Great Allegheny Passage, one of its favorite bike trails.
It's the first time the sojourn includes rail-trails in three states.
Sojourners will overnight in Cecil Park along the Montour Trail, Cedar Creek Park in Westmoreland County, the Outflow Campground in Confluence for two nights and at a baseball field in Meyersdale. Wilderness Voyageurs, an Ohiopyle-based rafting and bike tour company, is handling the logistics.
A day off on Wednesday will give the sojourners an opportunity to visit Fallingwater and/or Kentuck Knob, go whitewater rafting on the Youghiogheny River, fish, hike, get a massage in Confluence or just relax.
On Wednesday morning, the conservancy will contribute $1,500 toward the rehabilitation of the Pinkerton Tunnel, a gift that will help make it possible for trail users, including kayakers, to eventually cover even more ground -- 849 feet -- on the passage.
It is contributing $5 for each of the 300 cyclists on the sojourn. Thanks to a 17-1 matching grant, the conservancy's donation will total $25,500.
The tunnel rehab is expected to cost approximately $1.75 million.
"Historic train tunnels are popular features that distinguish destination rail-trails and attract tourists from all over the world," said Tom Sexton, director of the conservancy's Northeast Regional Office.
The Western Maryland Railway built the 849-foot-long Pinkerton Tunnel in southern Somerset County in 1911 and closed it in the 1970s. Its entrances are blocked by steel barriers.
The railway's former 90-mile right-of-way from Connellsville to Cumberland is now the longest segment of the 150-mile passage, a stretch that includes a 1.5-mile detour around the Pinkerton Tunnel.
The tunnel cuts through the Pinkerton Horn, a dirt-rock-and-wooded peninsula between Markleton and Fort Hill that was created by a large bend in the Casselman River. It's near Mile Post 52, a narrow white and black trail marker that denotes the tunnel's distance from Cumberland.
When the tunnel is re-opened, kayakers will be able to paddle the Casselman from its upstream portal to the downstream portal, hike up the hill, walk through the tunnel and run around the horn again.
It will be similar to what kayakers do now when they enter the Youghiogheny River below the falls in Ohiopyle, paddle a mile around the Ferncliff Peninsula, hike up the hill to the bike trail, return to town and re-enter the river to run it again.
"There is a wonderful history behind the Pinkerton Tunnel, a history that is just as important to the area's future as to its past," Sexton said.
"Rail-trails that preserve and promote the railroading heritage of an area attract a large and diverse segment of visitors and trail users."
He said the sojourn, "the only rail-trail tour of its kind in the country," has brought thousands of visitors from every state to the Laurel Highlands and Allegheny Plateau areas of Pennsylvania and Maryland.
He added that it has "injected millions of dollars into local economies and spurred continued trail development and business investment."
The Somerset County Rails-to-Trails Association said donations for the tunnel rehab can be made online at www.atatrail.org/pinkerton or mailed to the association at PO Box 413, Somerset, PA 15501. Donations of $500 or more will be acknowledged on a plaque at the tunnel.
Information: www.railstotrails.org; www.scrta.org
Larry Walsh writes about recreational bicycling for the Post-Gazette.