The stunning beauty of towering trees and rugged rock cuts high above the Butler-Freeport Community Trail can be hazardous to your health.
|Curt Chandler, Post-Gazette photos
A cyclist checks for oncoming traffic while approaching the Butler-Freeport Community Trail and Marwood Road near the Freehling Lumber Co., where a neighbor maintains a flower garden beside the trail.
Click photo for larger image.
Hitting the Trails
This is part of a weekly series spotlighting hiking and biking trails in the region. Publication of the series coincides with the Hike for Health project promoted by the state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, state Department of Health and other agencies to encourage folks to get fit on foot.
While stopping to marvel at a 20-foot rock formation that borders the trail, I drifted back into the path and nearly served as a speed bump for a mountain biker whizzing past.
All of this, of course, amounts to a recommendation for the trail.
News coverage of the Butler-Freeport Community Trail has long focused on disputes with adjacent landowners who believed the trail infringed on their property rights. But the legal disputes are over, trail organizers say, and the entire 20.7-mile trail between Freeport and Butler should be complete by 2006.
The trail is a peaceful path that takes you from forest to farm in just 12 miles.
I started my journey from the trailhead at Sarver, which has the best parking of the trailheads near Route 28. On the recommendation of some walkers, I started out going south and east toward Freeport in the Allegheny River valley.
The trail here follows Little Buffalo Creek, a frolicking stream that noisily knocks around rocks beneath a lush canopy of trees. Standing beside the aforementioned rock formation, which sits about one mile downstream from Sarver, I talked with Joe and Eleanor Witt, of Pine, about the surprising beauty of the trail.
Joe Witt voiced only a few words of caution about my route.
"It's easy going this way," he said, noting the downhill slope. "Going back is a little work."
The path out of Sarver is primarily a smooth trail of crushed limestone, but there are a few spots of erosion that make for rough going. Two miles downstream at Monroe, the path follows a service road for the Buffalo Creek Waste Water Treatment Plant.
The trail passes beneath a hugely impressive bridge for Route 28, which is supported by tapered concrete columns 20 feet in diameter at their base. Odes to young love spray-painted on the columns makes for decent reading.
My pannier nearly popped off while riding the remaining three miles into Laneville. This section of trail consists of ballast -- rough gravel that made me thankful I was on a hybrid bike -- but work is under way to improve this section. The final half mile into Laneville will be paved, making the trail more like the wide, slow flow of Buffalo Creek just before it joins the Allegheny.
In Laneville, turn left and bike one block to the old Valley Mills building beside the creek. This is the home of the Freeport Area Historical Society, and there's a Port-a-John outside -- I happily used it, disregarding notes suggesting it was last serviced 4/3/03. A sawmill was first located here in 1816, according to a sign posted on the massive building.
I burned calories and made good time cycling back to Sarver. Continuing north and west toward Butler, the creek is quieter, the trees are smaller and the trail is sunnier.
At Cabot, there's plenty of parking, as well as an ice cream and pizza shop called the Pit Stop, which also rents bikes. The shop was closed during my trip, but Ron Bennett, president of the Butler-Freeport Trail Council, said the Pit Stop is usually open weekends and evenings.
North of town, the old Saxon City Hotel, built in 1871, still remains. That same year, the Western Pennsylvania Railroad built this branch of track to tap limestone deposits needed by Pittsburgh's steel industry. The railway became part of the Pennsylvania Railroad in 1903 and was taken out of service in 1987.
One mile up from Cabot, there's a nice bench for sitting outside Freehling Lumber and Hardware in Marwood. From here, the trail feels more like a dirt path that could serve as a service road for nearby farms.
A mile or so beyond Marwood, you can see turkeys lounging in an open-air building at Jones Farm. A roadside stand at the farm sells corn in season -- patrons put their $3.50 in the mailbox and help themselves to a 13-ear dozen.
It's the "Help Ur-Self Honor System," the sign explains.
I helped myself to the last of my water and decided I'd best head back, even though the trail continues for a few more miles to Herman. The pastoral surroundings were a bit too sunny.