For people who
love trails, long rides, picturesque towns, farms, mountains and rivers, Pennsylvania is a great
place to be. Rails-to-Trails Conservancy (RTC) has a long history of involvement
helping local trails groups, volunteers and agencies develop some of the best
trails networks in the country. Our annual Greenway Sojourn has had a lot to do
with that, highlighting opportunities for new trails and celebrating existing routes.
Sojourn took us to an area that is fast developing a reputation as the new
destination for trails enthusiasts: the northern Laurel
Highlands, east of Pittsburgh.
For the first
three nights of the Sojourn, we set up camp in a great spot next to the Ghost
Town Trail in the town of Ebensburg.
About 100 riders chose to join us for an optional first day ride on Tuesday,
down to the Path of the Flood Trail, through Franklin
and into the historical city of Johnstown.
While there were
many highlights that day, such as passing through the oldest railroad tunnel in
America, traveling up the
world's steepest vehicular incline (the Johnstown Inclined Plane), and visiting the Path of the Flood Museum,
the day was particularly significant for another reason. This ride was the
first time a group had passed along the newly cleared route from the Staple
Bend railroad tunnel, where the Path of the Flood Trail now ends, through to Franklin and Johnstown.
As those of us who braved it know, much work remains to be done before it is rideable--most Sojourners had to walk their bikes through the thick brush. But by
beating a path for the Sojourn, RTC and local trails volunteers have forced the
issue of what remains to be done to complete this vital connection.
some riders later that night, I was told that one local cyclist, on seeing the
Sojourners emerge from the wilderness on their way to Johnstown, expressed his great excitement
that such a connection was in the works. Hopefully the energy of more locals
like him will push the project forward!
But our trails
pioneering wasn't done yet. With the remainder of the 250 Sojourners joining us
for the official kick-off the next day, we headed west along the ever-present
Ghost Town Trail through the town of Nanty-Glo.
There, RTC's Mr Sojourn, Tom Sexton, unveiled the brand-new Cambria
and Indiana Trail (C&I). Named for the railroad company that operated the original
line the trail follows, the C&I loops north off the Ghost Town and
reconnects in the town of Vintondale.
There is no
denying it, the C&I also needs some smoothing work; loose ballast and
BMX-style humps were a bit much for some riders, and it will be a little while
yet before this rail-trail can be opened to the public.
But, like the
path through the wilderness from the Staple Bend Tunnel, by bringing the
Sojourn to this region RTC has taken some crucial first steps to develop all the
trail assets and connectivity of the region.
There must be
something about the Sojourn that brings the hot weather! As has been the case
in previous years, this year's Sojourn coincided with a newsworthy heat wave,
with temperatures about 15 degrees above the average. It occasionally made for
tough riding, but everyone was careful to drink plenty of water and look after
Still, in 90-plus
degrees, the 52-mile ride along the Ghost Town and West Penn trails from
Ebensburg to Saltsburg was hard on a lot of folks. When the riders finally
pulled in to the sumptuous grounds of the Kiski School
above Saltsburg, sweat, exhaustion and a sense of accomplishment mingled in
equal parts. The indoor and outdoor pools were popular spots over the next few
days, with the Pittsburgh
kids putting on a spectacular display from the diving board.
After many hot
miles on the bike, the canoe and kayak trip down the Conemaugh River
on the third day was a welcome change and allowed us to experience a different
kind of recreational pathway. Enjoying this perfect antidote to the heat,
Sojourners spent as much time in the river as in their boats, drifting slowly
down the river swollen by a specially timed release from the Conemaugh Dam
A small group of
dedicated riders took up the invitation of some local cyclists to explore the
myriad of trails around Saltsburg, including the Westmoreland Heritage Trail
and the Roaring Run Trail.
One of important
requirements to keep energy levels up after a long ride or paddle is good food.
We were fortunate this year to again have the services of Dave Rose and Galloping
Gourmet catering, which consistently dished up delicious and nutritious meals,
often sourced from local farms and producers. That baked chicken was especially
things cooled off just a little for the final two days. On Saturday the Sojourn
pulled up stakes at the Kiski School for the 32-mile ride to Indiana, following
the West Penn Trail and the meandering Conemaugh River back east, before
turning north through Black Lick on the Hoodlebug Trail.
University of Pennsylvania playing fields made a fine home for the Sojourn's
last night of camping under the stars. As in Saltsburg and Ebensburg, we were a
short walk from downtown, and a number of riders made the most of this vibrant
The reception at
the Jimmy Stewart Museum
was a definite highlight--thank you to our impersonator and interpreter Chris
Collins, who provided a Jimmy Stewart experience few Sojourners will forget!
By Sunday, many
of the Sojourners were ready to return to a few home comforts. As wonderful as
the trails were, after six nights in a tent, a cozy mattress and a long bath
starts to look pretty good.
So the final
day's ride back to Ebensburg was a nice time to reflect on the many miles we
had traveled in the week behind us, the people we had met, and the summits we
had bested, actual or otherwise. And for some it was one last chance for a
refreshing soak in Blacklick Creek!
Many thanks to
the volunteers and Sojourn supporters who do so much to make this ride possible
every year. And thanks also to all those who took part, this year and in years
past. Your passion for trails, and your support of RTC is enormously important,
and much appreciated.
We hope to see
you sometime soon, out and about on the trails!
Photos by Rails-to-Trails Conservancy - click on any of the photos for a slideshow of images from the Sojourn.