Trail group honors Boxx, former mayor

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Two names synonymous with the development of bike trails in Pennsylvania -- Linda McKenna Boxx and Tom Murphy -- have been honored by the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy, or RTC, the nation's largest trails organization.

Boxx and Murphy were among 25 individuals who received a Doppelt Family Rail-Trail Champions Award this month for their "significant contributions to the rail-trail movement through their work, volunteerism" and/or other support.

Each recipient was presented with a commemorative silver-plated railroad spike and a $1,000 grant to donate to a favorite local trail or trail organization.

Boxx gave her grant to the Great Allegheny Passage, which -- when completed, hopefully in 2012 -- will extend 150 miles from Point State Park to Cumberland, Md. In Cumberland, the passage joins the C&O Canal Towpath for a 184.5-mile ride to Washington, D.C.

Murphy donated his grant to the Friends of the Riverfront, an organization that has worked for 20 years to reclaim Pittsburgh's riverfronts for public access and recreational use. The organization has been instrumental in the development of the Three Rivers Heritage Trail system.

Among other things, the RTC commended Boxx for her leadership in the formation in 1995 of the Allegheny Trail Alliance, the coalition of seven rail-trail groups responsible for the construction and maintenance of the passage.

Although the groups had various priorities for their respective segments of the 150-mile trail, Boxx pointed out the need to direct their energies to the completion of such major projects as the 3,300-foot-long Big Savage Tunnel and the 1,900-foot-long Salisbury Viaduct.

The completion of the tunnel was crucial because there is no way around it. And walking a bike over Big Savage Mountain, which takes about an hour, is a laborious task. The Salisbury Viaduct also saves cyclists a lot of time and effort. And the views from its concrete deck aren't bad, either.

Boxx, who chairs the Latrobe-based Katherine Mabis McKenna Foundation, is an avid cyclist. She has raised more than $30 million for the construction of the passage and also has helped with marketing, design and project management of several of its missing links.

Murphy, who served as a state representative from 1979-93, led the passage of the Pennsylvania Rail Trail Act of 1989, as well as the purchase of what is now the 64-mile-long Pine Creek Trail.

As mayor of Pittsburgh from 1994-2005, he oversaw the development of more than 20 miles of paved asphalt trails that overlook the Allegheny, Monongahela and Ohio rivers.

"Tom understood what trails and biking could do for the city at a time when nobody was talking about it," said Tom Sexton, RTC's northeast regional director.

"Beyond his role in Pittsburgh, Tom was a cheerleader for trails throughout the southwestern part of the state. Now that we have all these great trails, people forget there was a time when people weren't interested [in them]. But Tom was a visionary; he was out on the stump."

Sexton said Murphy's promotion of trails and urban green space "has transformed the landscape of Pittsburgh and helped make Pennsylvania one of the nation's most trail-friendly states. Murphy's legacy in Pittsburgh is evident today in the Three Rivers Heritage Trail System."

Murphy, a strong cyclist, has led several rides from Pittsburgh to Washington, D.C. Lollygaggers need not apply.

The RTC, founded in 1986, is a nonprofit based in Washington, D.C., with more than 150,000 members and supporters. It is dedicated to connecting people and communities by creating a nationwide network of public trails, many from former rail lines and connecting corridors.

Information: www.railstotrails.org, www.GAPtrail.org, www.friendsoftheriverfront.org.


Larry Walsh writes about recreational bicycling for the Post-Gazette.


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