Biking: A celebration of the Yough River

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River Reflections" was conceived as a calendar but grew into a book.

The 6-by-9-inch book contains 24 watercolors by Karen E. Howell of the Great Allegheny Passage, primarily its Yough River Trail segment between Boston, Pa., and Connellsville. Bob Cupp wrote the historical narrative.

Howell, 69, who was born, raised and still lives in a rural area of Elizabeth Township, is a self-taught, self-employed professional artist who works out of her home studio. She also trained in commercial art for a few years.

"I was mentored in watercolor painting while in my teens and became totally captivated by the medium," she said. "I work in acrylics and pen and ink, but always go back to watercolor."

She met Cupp in 1997 at Youghtoberfest, the Mon/Yough Trail Council's annual fall festival at the Boston Trailhead. He was checking out the arts and crafts booths when he first saw her work.

"I stopped dead in my tracks when I saw the beautiful watercolor prints displayed by Karen," said Cupp, a bicyclist who now owns 14 of her paintings. "Although art appreciation was never one of my strong traits, I found something special in [her] Yough River trailside paintings."

Several years ago, Howell asked Cupp if he would provide a historical narrative for a calendar. He agreed, but the project was delayed for a few years. Last October, Howell called Cupp again, told him she had completed more paintings and said she would like to do a book.

"I dusted off the narratives I had written for the calendar and added a little more information to them. Then I wrote additional narratives as Karen decided what other scenes she was going to paint," Cupp said.

"River Reflections" includes a solitary canoeist, a reenactment crossing of the river in Connellsville, waterfowl, an old boxcar since refurbished, a company store in Van Meter (Westmoreland County) that's now gone, walkers, anglers, bicyclists, the green passenger car at the West Newton station, a house built in 1814 by the multitalented John C. Plummer, the Dravo Cemetery, the Boston Shoppes, the Old Ice House in McKeesport and Deadman's Hollow in Lincoln and Liberty boroughs.

Cupp said the hollow, now a 400-acre wildlife preserve, is "a mysterious valley with a storied past. This place has been the scene of at least four documented deaths as well as several questionable accidents which resulted in serious injury."

Howell, a bicyclist and a canoeist, and her husband, Ron, also a bicyclist, have introduced their three children and three grandchildren to the trail. The couple also enjoys walking along its crushed limestone surface.

"I've had a long and enjoyable career -- art shows, commissions and a store front -- but painting the trail and its natural beauty has given me the most pleasure," she said.

Cupp, 66, of North Huntingdon, is a retired business systems analyst in the IT department at the Elliott Company in Jeannette and the author of "A Valley in the Hills -- Delmont, Pennsylvania."

He has walked the trail from McKeesport to Cumberland, Md. "It was an adventure I'll never forget," he said. He has written extensively about the trail and its history and is a member of the Elizabeth Township, Norwin and Westmoreland County historical societies.

Information: Email kehowellart@gmail.com; CuppBob@aol.com.

Members only

The Montour Trail Council will have a free "wrap up the season" picnic from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. today at Milepost 0 to thank its members for their support and help in "building and maintaining" the trail.

A brief ceremony will honor "20 years of open trail in this area."

Information: www.montourtrail.org; 412-257-3011; MTCoffice@montourtrail.org.

outdoors

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


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