Scenery and challenges spice Armstrong Trail bike ride

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One of the reasons for signing up for the Armstrong Trail's fundraising ride last Saturday was the opportunity to bike the scenic and historic 15-mile segment that parallels the Allegheny River from East Brady to Templeton.

It included an 8-mile segment from East Brady to Rimer that we hadn't ridden before because, on our previous visit, the usually wide trail just beyond Rimer became an 18-inch dirt path more conducive to mountain biking.

An unexpected surprise was having Marty Henry, an East Brady native and longtime member of the Armstrong Rails to Trails Association, as our guide. The association maintains and promotes the trail that is owned by the Allegheny Valley Land Trust.

We followed him from a parking lot near the town's sewage-treatment plant, bounced across palm-sized ballast on a short rough road through a new housing development and made our first stop at the Pine Run Waterfall. The stream, fed by recent rains, was impressive.

Our next stop was an old circular railroad turntable that was used to turn locomotives around because they weren't designed to travel in reverse for extensive distances. The turntable was completely overgrown, but a determined crew of association volunteers unearthed it -- literally -- and it awaits an engineering study and funding.

Also awaiting an engineering study and funding is the East Brady Tunnel that is closed to the public. The 2,468-foot long tunnel, built in 1915, would enable bicyclists to bypass East Brady -- if they chose and ride toward Catfish and Upper Hillville en route to the Allegheny Valley Trail.

The association, however, envisions cyclists enjoying a loop ride that would bring them into town to enjoy its many amenities, including overnight accommodations, restaurants and a variety of shops and stores.

A long wooden chute, built to direct water over the tunnel from the hillside above it, has fallen into disrepair. Meanwhile, the water now pours down the right side of the tunnel's portal.

Our next stop was a four-story concrete coaling tower where coal was loaded to fuel steam-powered locomotives. Unfortunately, alphabet-challenged individuals armed with cans of spray paint have besmirched the structure.

We passed Lock and Dam 9, Rimer, Hook Station, the Pittsburg & Shawmut Railroad Bridge, Gray's Eddy, the Armstrong Generating Station at Reesedale and entered Templeton, where we stopped for lunch in the pavilion at the Nautical Mile Campground & Marina.

We enjoyed chicken, pulled pork, baked beans, pasta salad and vegetables sliced for dipping, a bountiful meal prepared Terry Steffy and his staff at the Adrian Store. We sampled trays of cookies baked by volunteers.

"We have a lot of talented bakers," said association member Kay Owen, who organized the meal.

The pavilion was a welcome break from the showers -- at least a dozen -- that dampened our duds but not our spirits to and from Templeton. A toasty log-fueled campfire gave more than 90 riders an opportunity to warm up before and after lunch. Live entertainment was provided in the pavilion by Madison Kunst and Josh Petras.

During a post-ride interview, former association president Toni Henry and longtime member Sarah Heppenstall said all proceeds from the ride will be used for trail improvements.

Our group recommended that some money be used to repair soft spots between the turntable and the coaling tower that nearly stopped us in our tracks and on signage to direct trail-users to reach trail-parking areas, especially in East Brady.

Information: www.armstrongtrail.org

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


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