Groundwork for the Great Allegheny Passage bike trail was laid in 1970s

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There has been a lot of attention in the past month directed at the successful completion of the last mile of the Great Allegheny Passage through Sandcastle Waterpark and Keystone Metals.

Let me tell you about the less-noticed completion in 1980 of the first mile of what was to become the 150-mile multipurpose bike trail that leads "through the mountains, not over them" from Pittsburgh to Cumberland, Md.

It involved Larry Adams, the innovative superintendent of Ohiopyle State Park; a close reading of the park's Master Plan; multiskilled state employees; borrowed equipment; available end-of-year state funds; an out-of-sight site to stash 10,000 tons of crushed limestone; and an attitude of let's just build it.

Adams became the park's superintendent in January 1977. Then as now, Ohiopyle was synonymous with whitewater rafting. The four state-certified commercial rafting companies had little interest in the development of a bike trail on the old right-of-way of the Western Maryland Railway.

The companies, which now rent bikes, believed bicyclists would adversely affect their businesses. They didn't want cyclists to fill up the town's limited parking spaces.

The planned improvement of the Ramcat launch area, which provides canoeists, kayakers and rafters easy access to the Youghiogheny River 2 miles downstream from Confluence, gave Adams an opportunity. After the restrooms, gravel parking lot and trail to the river were completed, he directed his attention to the railway right-of-way that was choked with saplings, brush and other obstacles. He contacted the state Department of Labor and Industry to line up labor to clear the trail.

Adams said Jerry Yocum, a state landscape architect who "specialized in trails, all kind of trails," was a huge help. Yocum managed to find some extra money for the proposed bike trail in the state budget at the end of every fiscal year.

The first 3 miles of the trail were "an instant hit with everyone," including some of those who initially opposed it, Adams said. "It really got the ball rolling. It became clear to me that that trail could be a lot bigger."

He put together a slide show of what he called the River Trail to present to a Rails-to-Trails conference in Dayton, Ohio., and took it to meetings in Ohiopyle, Confluence, Rockwood, Meyersdale and Connellsville. Then his boss called from Harrisburg. It seemed people had been calling his office about a bike trail between Ramcat and Ohiopyle. They wanted to know when it would be completed.

"What bike trail are they talking about," the boss asked.

"The one that's included [it was actually buried] in the Master Plan for the park," Adams replied.

"Well, when can you finish it?"

That put what had been the "shoestring-style" construction of the trail in high gear. As soon as the 9.5-mile trail reached Ohiopyle in 1986, Adams started on the 6-mile segment leading to Bruner Run. It was well underway when he took a position at Moraine State Park in 1989. He retired in 1999.

Adams, now 70, and his wife, Nancy, live a mile from Deal, the highest trailhead on the passage. "I ride it, walk it and [cross-country] ski it. It's real gratifying to me to see it completed. I was glad to be a part of it."

Wheels of Hope ride

The first Wheels of Hope bicycle rides will be June 22 and will start and end at the Palisades at 501 Water St. in McKeesport. An incorrect date and address appeared in last Saturday's biking column.

Celebrate

There's a lot to celebrate today, including the Pop-Up Party at the Pump House from noon to 10 p.m.; the South Side Rock & Ride from 2 p.m. to 7 p.m. at the amphitheater; and the Pedal Party from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. in Town Center, West Homestead. Information: www.gaptrail.org

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


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