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Bicycling: Ride for Habitat a helping hand

Sunday, April 13, 2003

By Larry Walsh

Evelyn Pitts, a volunteer for the Allegheny Valley affiliate of Habitat for Humanity, called the organization about a year ago and asked it to "keep an eye out" for a trailer.

Evelyn Pitts, right, gets a hug from her granddaughter, Ashley Moore, in front of her new "immobile" home in Upper Burrell. The Allegheny Valley affiliate of Habitat for Humanity, which is making interior and exterior improvements to the home, raises money for such projects with an annual bike ride. Bicyclists who will participate in this year's ride on April 26 include Denny Murphy, far left, and the Zsolczak family: siblings Dan and Julie and parents Linda and Joe. Taking a break from work in the background, from left, are Kelsie Allen, Rachel Urbanski, Sarah Thomson and Jessica Hladney, members of Junior Girl Scout Troop 866 in Brackenridge. (Andy Starnes, Post-Gazette)

"I told her we don't do trailers," said Diane Belitskus, the executive director of the affiliate. "Most Habitat affiliates don't do trailers."

"Well, honey," said Pitts, undeterred, "if you hear of one that I could buy, let me know because I'm looking for one so I can get back to 'The Beach.' "

"The Beach" is a small community along Puckety Creek in Upper Burrell. Pitts, 77, a retired domestic worker, was born and raised in the neighborhood.

The day after Pitts' call, Belitskus received a call from a woman who wanted to know if the affiliate accepted trailers.

"I almost started to cry when that woman called," Belitskus said. "I was in such disbelief. It was uncanny. The Lord certainly moves in mysterious ways."

The affiliate accepted the three bedroom, brown and white trailer, moved it a year ago and permanently set it in place as an "immobile home" about a month ago. It has a good sized living room, a dining room with parquet floors, central vacuum and an intercom.

"It must have been a Cadillac of a trailer when it was new," Belitskus said.

Because it was set on the lot before a backhoe could dig the ditches for the electric, gas and water lines, that under-the-trailer work had to be done by hand.

Providing those helping hands last Saturday were members of Junior Girl Scouts Troop 866 from Brackenridge and students from IUP.

It was slow-going because they encountered rocks and tree roots.

Helping out with other work at the site were the affiliate's supervisors, Tom Hughes Jr. and Herman Marini, Ride Chairman Joe Zsolcsak and Denny Murphy, one of the group's top riders.

"I am so appreciative of everyone's help," Pitts said. "Habitat for Humanity is such a wonderful organization. They said I should be able to move in by the end of the month and I am so looking forward to it."

The affiliate's "Ride for Habitat," which began in 1999, has raised more than $100,000. It used the money to build two new homes, renovate a third and improve Pitts' "immobile" home. Although recipients don't have to pay for donated materials, they do have to repay what was spent on their behalf.

This year's ride of 15 or 30 miles on well-marked roads in West Deer will begin and end at the Bull Creek Presbyterian Church on Culmerville Road. Participants solicit contributions from family and friends for each mile they ride.

For more information, call 724-339-2777 or go to www.habitatav.org.

Tunnel update

Water, the nemesis of the Big Savage Tunnel since it was dug in 1911 in southern Somerset County, is on its way out.

Advanced Construction Techniques of Ontario, Canada, which began to rehabilitate the 3,300 foot long tunnel last April 1st, has stabilized the ceiling and walls. It is channeling 3,000 gallons of water per minute from the north portal and 1,000 gallons per minute from the south portal.

Because the project was more complicated than initially thought, the cost has increased from about $9 million to $12 million. The National Park Service contributed $2 million.

The Allegheny Trail Alliance, the umbrella organization for seven rails-trails groups, is asking individuals and groups to help it raise the remaining $1 million to complete the vital link between Meyersdale and the Maryland boarder. Donations of $100 or more will be permanently recognized at the tunnel.

Columbia Gas donated $10,000 last month, an amount that ATA President Linda McKenna Boxx said was doubled thanks to a matching grant.

For more information, call toll-free at 1-888-282-2453 or go to www.atatrail.org.

Women's clinic

The second annual Women's Mountain Bike Clinic will be held May 17-18 at the lodge at Laurel Mountain Ski Area.

The clinic, hosted by Speedgoat Bicycles of Laughlintown, will offer seminars on basic skills, advanced skills, maintenance, nutrition and bike fit.

Presenters include: Chris Cocalis, founder of Titus Cycles; Patty Rennels, senior program director at the Ligonier Valley YMCA; Nancy Trun, a Duquesne University professor, avid cyclist, racer and trail advocate; Nancy DeVore, an endurance racer and mountain-bike instructor and Chris Currie, co-owner and head tech at Speedgoat.

Participants also will be invited to take part in rides for beginner, intermediate and advanced cyclists, a night ride and a coed ride.

For more information, call toll-free at 1-888-545-4628 or go to www.speedgoat.com.

Trail companion

The Great Allegheny Passage Companion, Bill Metzger's mile-by-mile guide to the history and heritage along the trail from Pittsburgh to Cumberland, Md., has been published by The Local History Company of Pittsburgh.

Metzger, an animated storyteller and multi-talented mapmaker, garnishes his prose with maps, illustrations and historical photos local residents generously shared with him. He lives and bikes along the trail with his wife Pam. The guide, which costs $19.95, can easily be taken along on a ride.

For more information, call toll-free 1-866-362-0789, 412-362-2294 or go to www.TheLocalHistoryCompany.com.

Larry Walsh can be reached at lwalsh@post-gazette.com and 412-263-1488.

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