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Bicycling: Elizabeth Township policemen keep a welcome eye on bicyclists

Sunday, July 07, 2002

By Larry Walsh

Elizabeth Township policemen keep a welcome eye on bicyclists

Debbie Jermalowski smiled when she saw the Elizabeth Township police officer pedaling a bike along the Great Allegheny Passage near the Boston trailhead.

Elizabeth Township police officers Ron Makosey, left, and Paul Hawthorne patrol the Great Allegheny Passage trail on bicycle. (John Beale, Post-Gazette)

"What a great idea," said Jermalowski, 40, of Ross, a contract administrator for the Port Authority. "It's nice to have that presence on the trail."

Her biking companion, Mike Dailey, agreed.

"It's good to know there is someone out there who can help you if you have a problem," said Dailey, 48, of Cranberry, a Port Authority bus driver.

Those are typical reactions, said township Police Chief Dave Graham.

"The first day they were out, I got a number of calls and voice mails," Graham said. "It was very gratifying."

"They" are officers Paul Hawthorne, 29, and Ron Makosey, 40, both of whom grew up in the township and enjoy patrolling the bike trail when their schedules permit.

Their trail uniform includes a silver helmet, a short-sleeved gray shirt complete with name tag and police insignia on the shoulders, black shorts, sneakers and a black duty belt that includes their service weapon and a radio.

And their patrol "vehicle" is a black and white Smith & Wesson mountain bike that has front suspension and saddle bags. Although they are trained and equipped to render first aid or make minor bike repairs, they haven't had to do more than put a child's chain back onto the sprocket.

"A lot of what we do is public relations," Hawthorne said as Makosey nodded his head in agreement. "And people tell us they are happy to see us out on the trail," said Makosey, whose home is about 30 feet from the trail.

But there has been a little law enforcement.

Hawthorne was biking under a bridge when he smelled the distinct aroma of marijuana. The puffing perpetrator, who was caught smoke-handed, never saw the officer coming.

"Boy, was he surprised," Graham said.

Rick Troy, a University of Pittsburgh police officer and an International Police Mountain Bike Association certified instructor, trained Hawthorne and Makosey in bike patrolling.

Troy also has trained more than 300 police officers, including some from Allegheny and Washington counties, Pittsburgh, Cecil, Findlay, McDonald, Moon, Peters and Robinson. He saw the need for more policing along the growing trail network and obtained a $69,000 federal grant to make it happen.

Among other things, the course covers bicycle handling skills, night operations, bicycle maintenance, emergency maneuvers, nutrition and group riding. Each officer received a new bike, helmet, uniform, a manual and a year's membership in the IPMBA.

Graham said about 20 miles of the trail runs through the township. The trail, formally known as the Youghiogheny River Trail North section of the Great Allegheny Passage, is maintained by the Mon-Yough Trail Council and the Regional Trail Corp.

"The trail is in great shape," Dailey said as he fastened his bike onto the back of his red pickup truck last Wednesday afternoon. He was warm from the exercise and the scorching weather. The high for the day was 93 degrees.

"This is our first visit, but we'll be back," he said. "We're making the rounds of the various trails -- we've already ridden the Montour Trail -- and each one has been well maintained."

On an average weekend, the dirt parking lot under the Boston Bridge, the asphalt parking lot along the baseball field and the lot by the soccer field are full. There is no charge for parking.

But Graham and his officers do have a favor to ask.

They would appreciate it if extended parkers notify them in advance that they plan to leave their vehicles in a lot for one or more nights. "All they have to do is call us with their license number and a description of their vehicle and when they plan to return," Graham said.

If only neighbors -- and some bicyclists -- would keep their dogs off the trail.

"That is a downside," Makosey said. "There are too many dogs running loose on the trail."

And an upside?

"It's good exercise," Makosey said. "I've already lost a few pounds."

And another upside?

"It's great to see so many people coming out and enjoying the trail -- bicyclists, joggers, runners, walkers and women pushing baby strollers."

And going along for the ride in those strollers is the next generation of trail users.

Larry Walsh writes his Bicycling column the first Sunday of each month during warm months.

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