Four days after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, David Brickley found himself at a conference in Arlington, Va.
The Mid-Atlantic Governors Conference on Greenways, Blueways and Green Infrastructure almost didn't happen -- no-fly zones were still in place, making it difficult for people to travel as the nation was still reeling from the terrorist attacks just a few days earlier. Conference organizers had considered but decided against canceling the event, which 1,500 people were scheduled to attend.
Instead, Mr. Brickley, then director of Virginia's Department of Conservation and Recreation, sent Virginia park rangers to North Carolina to pick up hundreds of small American flags to hand out to the 700 people who showed up for the conference. The parks and recreation directors and government and conservation leaders from 13 states started planning something to commemorate the events that occurred just a few days prior, Mr. Brickley said.
"Let's see if there's some way we can pay homage and tribute to those heroes of 9/11, because connectivity is a major thing that we try to promote in trails and greenways across the country," Mr. Brickley said.
With that, the idea for connecting the three Sept. 11 sites with 1,100 miles of bike trails was born. And after more than a decade, the first piece of funding is in place to make the trail a reality.
Mr. Brickley is now the president of the nonprofit September 11th National Memorial Trail Alliance, which was formed in 2002 but didn't begin working on a plan for the trails until about four years ago, he said.
The goal is to form a triangle of bike paths among the three sites -- the National September 11 Memorial & Museum in New York City, the National 9/11 Pentagon Memorial and the Flight 93 National Memorial in Somerset County.
Somerset County recently received a $50,000 matching grant from the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and National Resources, which will be used to hire a consultant to flesh out how the Great Allegheny Passage will connect with the Flight 93 site and, the more complicated project, how to link the Flight 93 site with the Liberty Water Gap Trail, which begins at the Delaware Water Gap between Pennsylvania and New Jersey and runs to New York City.
The $50,000 in matching funds came from corporations, foundations, individual donations and in-kind contributions, he said.
Two of the legs are largely in place. The Great Allegheny Passage and the C&O Canal Towpath, which runs from Pittsburgh to Washington, D.C., will make up most of the leg from the Flight 93 site to the Pentagon memorial. Somerset County trail coordinator Brett Hollern said a 25-mile spur from the Great Allegheny Passage at Rockwood to the Flight 93 site makes the most sense because other routes would be very hilly.
Mr. Hollern said he's hesitant to give a concrete timetable for the project, but he said Somerset County plans to have a consultant begin working on the routes from the Flight 93 site by the end of the year.
That leg will be about 440 miles long and use existing roads or require new trails to be built.
"The idea behind it was [to pay] tribute to those heroes of 9/11," Mr. Brickley said. "But in today's age of appreciating the economic and recreational and health benefits of hiking and cycling, it's really going to provide ... an economic boost to those localities."
For more information, visit www.911memorialtrail.org.
Annie Siebert: firstname.lastname@example.org, 412-263-1613 or on Twitter @AnnieSiebert.