FreeWheeling Easy in Western Pennsylvania
Information on Trails in the Laurel Highlands
by Mary Shaw and Roy Weil
We are pleased to present selections from the book FreeWheeling Easy in Western Pennsylvania. In most cases, this includes the first paragraph of the description, the summary information, and the trail organization.
Trails East and South: Laurel Highlands
Fifty miles east of Pittsburgh, rolling hills rise into the folds of the Appalachian mountains. Although the terrain is rugged, most of the trails here are rail-trails. Like the railroads that preceded them, these trails follow rivers on gentle grades. The major trail system in this region combines the Youghiogheny River and Allegheny Highlands Trails. The route runs upstream along the Youghiogheny River, going southeast from McKeesport to Confluence, then the Casselman River northeast to Rockwood and southeast to Garrett. Eventually it will continue southeast to meet the C&O Canal at Cumberland MD. These trails are now in various stages of development and should be finished by 1999.
By the turn of the century, it should be possible to ride for over 300 traffic-free miles from near Pittsburgh PA to Washington DC. From Pittsburgh the trail will climb gently along the Youghiogheny River, Casselman River, and Flaugherty Run to the spine of Big Savage Mountain. Here it will cross into Maryland north of Frostburg, then descend to Washington via Jennings Run, Wills Creek and the C&O Canal Towpath along the Potomac River. In Pennsylvania, continuous segments of 20.2, 2.4, 28, and 16.2 miles are now complete, and construction is progressing steadily.
Trail organizations: The northern section of the trail is owned and operated by the non-profit Regional Trails Corporation with help from the Southwestern Pa Heritage Preservation Commission. The southern part is developed and managed by Ohiopyle State Park. Three major volunteer organizations support the trail, with participation from a variety of others.
Allegheny County: Mon/Yough Trail Council, PO Box 14, McKeesport PA 15135-0014, (412) 672-1824. Membership: $10/year individual; $15/year family
Westmoreland County: Westmoreland Yough Trail Chapter, PO Box 95, 101 North Water St., West Newton PA 15089-0095, (412) 872-5586. Membership:$15/year individual; $25/year family
Fayette County: Yough River Trail Council, PO Box 988, Connellsville PA 15425-0988, (412) 626-5994. Membership: $15/year individual; $25/year family.
Operations, Boston to Bruner Run: Regional Trails Corporation, PO Box 95, West Newton PA 15089-0095, (412) 872-5586. Membership: $25/year individual
Ohiopyle State Park: Ohiopyle State Park, PO Box 105, Ohiopyle PA 1547, (412) 329-8591
The trail will eventually begin in McKeesports proposed McKee Point Park on the east side of the Youghiogheny River at its confluence with the Monongahela River. McKee Point Park is Pittsburgh and Lake Erie (P&LE) milepost 15; if milepost 0 existed, it would be under the Smithfield St. Bridge in Pittsburgh. The trail is planned to run through McKeesport Riverfront Park, cross to the west side of the Yough at the 15th St. bridge, and remain on the south side all the way to Connellsville and on to Confluence. For now, however, the trail begins at the Boston Riverfront Park (mile 19.1). Volunteer trail monitors carry first-aid kits, basic tools, and cellular telephones. Flag one down if you need assistance or have questions.
George Washington followed the Youghiogheny to Ohiopyle in 1754 in his search for a water route to Fort Duquesne (now Pittsburgh), but he gave up when he encountered the falls and rapids below. Modern visitors cycle this route through the Appalachians on the former route of the Western Maryland Railroad.
This trail has been named as one of the best walking trails in the world. Writing in the October 1994 issue of Travel and Leisure Magazine, Rita Ariyoshi named the Youghiogheny River Trail among 19 paths from France to New Zealand as The Worlds Best Walks. Its a popular trail, and hence can be a busy one. In nine years from 1986 to 1995 the number of user-days grew from 45,000 to 200,000.
The Allegheny Highlands trail will run for 62 miles through woods and small towns, climbing from the terminus of the C&O Canal Towpath at Cumberland along Wills Creek and Jennings Run to Frostburg, then up the eastern flank of Big Savage Mountain. After crossing under the crest of the mountain in a kilometer-long tunnel, it will descend along Flaugherty Run to the Casselman River at Meyersdale, then follow the Casselman to Confluence.
Initial development is concentrating on the Casselman River section. The continuation along Flaugherty Run will follow. The exact routing of the Maryland section is now being negotiated. Since the sections of this trail that are not officially open are officially closed to the public, we give only short descriptions of the future routes.
The Maryland Department of Natural Resources is planning a connection from Cumberland to the Maryland/Pennsylvania state line. They hope to share the right-of-way of the Western Maryland Scenic Railroad for 15 miles to Frostburg, then use the abandoned Western Maryland right-of-way for 5 miles north to the Mason-Dixon line. They are also considering a side trail to Mt Savage.
From the Mason-Dixon Line, the trail will continue for 11 miles on the Western Maryland route to Meyersdale. The major development challenge will be the kilometer-long Big Savage Tunnel, which takes the trail under the mountain and saves 200 feet of climb. Emerging from the woods at Deal, it will descend along Flaugherty Run to Meyersdale.
The completed trail will follow the Casselman River for 31 miles from Meyersdale to Confluence, where it will connect with the Youghiogheny River Trail. In fall of 1995, the 7 mile section from Rockwood to Garrett and the 7.5-mile section from Rockwood through Markleton to the trestle before Pinkerton Tunnel were complete. This provides a continuous 16.2-mile section, from mile 16.5 nearly to mile 33 of the final trail.
Trail organization: Hank Parke, Somerset County Rails to Trails Association, 829 North Center Av, Somerset PA 15501, (814) 445-6431, (814) 443-4313 (fax). Membership: $20/year individual or family
The Chesapeake and Ohio Canal Towpath was built between 1828 and 1850, opening progressively from Washington toward Cumberland as sections were completed. This was also the heyday of railroad development, and the C&O Canal competed with the B&O Railroad for both business and right of way. 74 manually-operated lift locks raised the canal from nearly sea level to an elevation of 605 feet at Cumberland.
Warning: The January 1996 flood caused $10-20 million damage to the towpath, and summer repairs were undone by major floods in September 1996. Most of the towpath is technically open, but it may be rough and muddy. Damage is worst close to Washington DC, so the western end will be among the first to reopen. Check before starting a through trip.
Trail organization: Superintendent, C&O Canal National Historical Park, Box 4, Sharpsburg MD 21782, (301) 739-4200
The trail runs along the east bank of Indian Creek, nestled in the valley between Chestnut Ridge and Laurel Ridge. A 5-mile segment from Champion to Indian Head is currently finished. The developed portion of the trail has a variety of surfaces, from crushed limestone to cinders. It has more grades and curves than youd expect from a rail-trail.
Trail organization: Evelyn Dix, Secretary, Salt Lick Township, PO Box 403, Melcroft PA 15462, (412) 455-2866.
Forbes State Forest and the adjacent State Parks (Linn Run, Laurel Mountain, and Laurel Ridge) maintain a network of snowmobile trails and forest service roads though the second-growth forest along Laurel Hill. Much of this network serves as a mountain biking system the rest of the year. Bicycling is allowed only on the designated trails (plus, of course, on roads open to automobiles). Bikes are specifically prohibited on the yellow-blazed Laurel Highlands Hiking Trail, which intersects the PW&S system at several places. Currently, the official mountain biking map shows about 15.4 miles of road (mostly dirt) and 19 miles of motor-free trail open north of the PA Turnpike (I76) and south of US30. These trails are marked to indicate their difficulty as novice, advanced, or expert. Most of the motor-free trails are rough, rocky, and steep -- true mountain biking trails. Most of the wide easy trails are on lightly-traveled roads. This trail system, then, is unlike virtually all the other trails in this guide.
Trail organization: Lysle S. Sherwin, Executive Director, Loyalhanna Watershed Association, 114 South Market St., PO Box 561, Ligonier, PA 15658, (412) 238-7560
Trail operations: District Forester, Forbes State Forest, PO Box 519, Laughlintown PA 15655
The Ghost Town Trail runs alongside Blacklick Creek and its South Branch from Dilltown to Nanty Glo, with a spur up North Branch Blacklick Creek from Rexis to White Mill Station. A 10 crushed limestone trail runs through woods, former mining towns, and the remnants of coal mines. Trail landscaping is still in progress, but 10 benches already provide resting places.
The trail is named for five ghost towns, once-thriving mining towns along the railroad that were all abandoned by the 1930s. The Eliza Furnace in Vintondale still remains, as do a few original houses and foundations of mine buildings. The area shows the heritage of the Blacklick Creek valley, which includes railroads, mining, iron making, and lumbering. Much of the trail is in State Game Lands, so wildlife and wildflowers are abundant. Several original railroad mileposts remain; theyre about a tenth of a mile east of the trail mileposts.
Trail organization: C&I Trail Council, PO Box 11, Dilltown PA 15929. Memberships: $10/year individual; $12/year family.
Along the Frankstown Branch of the Juniata River from Alfarata in Huntingdon County to Williamsburg in Blair County
This valley has served as a transportation corridor since it was part of the Frankstown Path, a major Indian route connecting Harrisburg with Kittanning and other towns along the Allegheny River. In subsequent times it has supported a canal, a railroad, and a highway. The route of the former railroad and canal forms the Lower (rhymes with flower) Trail. This trail runs alongside the Frankstown Branch of the Juniata River without road crossings for 11 miles through forest and farmland. The Juniata River here is more like a creek, often running in shallow riffles near the trail.
Trail organization: Jennifer Barefoot or Palmer Brown, Rails-to-Trails of Blair County, PO Box 592, Hollidaysburg PA 16648-0592, (814) 832-2400, Membership: $10/year individual, $12/year family
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FreeWheeling Easy is currently out of print. Some copies may be available in western Pennsylvania bike shops, outdoor stores, and bookstores for $13.95+tax. The 24 page Supplement is also available for $2.00 at many of the same places. If you can't find it there, try the used books on Amazon.com, or send us an e-mail and we will notify you when the next edition is available:
You are visiting FreeWheeling Easy in Western Pennsylvania, copyright © 1998,1999,2000,2001 by Mary Shaw and Roy Weil. We encourage you to link to these pages or print copies for personal use. However, if you want to copy the material for any other use, you must ask us first. Other outdoor publications by the authors. Page updated 04/08/06 by Mary Shaw Comments to maintainer.
As always we have made a serious effort to present accurate descriptions. However we are human, trails change with time, and we occasionally receive incorrect information. Therefore we can not be responsible for discrepancies between these descriptions and actual trail conditions. Use common sense, judgment and be careful out there.