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150-mile bike trail dubbed the Great Allegheny Passage

Thursday, January 18, 2001

By Don Hopey, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

Like coasting downhill, many bicyclists have anticipated the day when they could start pedaling on the bike trail at Station Square, wheel through Ohiopyle State Park and roll on to Cumberland, Md.

One problem with that pedal-pushing daydream is that the route never had a name. Now it does.

Great Allegheny Passage.

After six years and more than 100 proposals, the Allegheny Trail Alliance, a coalition of seven trail organizations, settled on Great Allegheny Passage as a name evocative of the geography and historical heritage of the as-yet-to-be-finished rails-to-trails route.

The 150-mile trail -- its name destined to be shortened to "GAP Trail" -- links up with the 200-mile long Chesapeake and Ohio Canal Tow Path in Cumberland, providing a continuous run to Washington, D.C.

"We've only been thinking about a name since the idea for this trail was born in 1995," said Bill Metzger, editor of the alliance's newsletter and the man credited with coming up with the trail title at a recent trail workshop in Confluence, Somerset County.

"I remember sending out a memo after our first meeting about the trail that had 25 or 30 suggested names on it, and we've been messing with it ever since."

For a while it seemed it would take longer to name the trail than to build the trail, which will open 100 continuous miles to bike and foot traffic, from McKeesport to Meyersdale, Somerset County, this year. The entire trail should be finished in 2003.

"Naming it was a nerve-wracking process, with a lot of people to keep happy," Metzger said. "We have seven trail groups, with 6,000 members and about 6,000 ideas of what the trail name should be."

"I think the name we finally settled on is a good representation of the trail for the nation, as well as reflecting some of the area's heritage," said John Stephen, president of Friends of the Riverfront, one of the alliance's member groups.

Linda McKenna Boxx, alliance president, said naming the trail was complicated because the trail is using rights of way of different railroads, is in two states and travels through historic areas of different eras -- the Revolutionary and Civil wars, for example.

She said the Great Allegheny Passage name will include the temporary subtitle "The Cumberland and Pittsburgh Trail." A new trail logo that will incorporate both will be unveiled Feb. 9 at the alliance's annual conference in Greensburg.

"We'll use that locator phrase as a trailer for now, but we expect to drop it as the trail gets recognition and people get to know its location," Boxx said.

She said the first runner-up for trail name was the Allegheny Frontier Trail.

"That was good because it spoke of crossing the Alleghenies, but the route is a rail-trail and wasn't really followed by frontier settlers," Boxx said. "Passage works better because it evokes a sense of adventure, and the trip from Cumberland to Pittsburgh will be that. When it's completed it will be one of the longest rail-trails in the United States."

New mile markers will start with zero in Cumberland at the C&O Towpath and count upward to Pittsburgh and beyond to Pittsburgh International Airport on the Montour Trail.

The mile markers will include the new trail logo and name as well as the member trail organizations -- the Montour Trail Council, Friends of the Riverfront, Steel Industry Heritage Corp., Regional Trail Corp., Ohiopyle State Park, Somerset County Rails to Trails Association, and Allegheny Highlands Trail Association in Maryland.

Boxx said it's important that the local names of the individual segments and the organizations be retained, in much the same way that organizations are given recognition for building and maintaining the Appalachian Trail.

Pennsylvania has more rail-trails -- 105 covering about 900 miles -- than any other state. It also has 1,110 miles of trails under development, also tops in the nation.



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