Big dreams of big business on the Youghiogheny Trail
June 25, 1998
ADELAIDE -- Here, at the end of Day 3, after we've ridden 17 miles on bikes, seems like a good time to talk about assets.
Of the Youghiogheny River Trail, that is.
That's the rail trail that follows much of the Yough on former railroad right of way. You've probably heard how eventually it will link to other trails at both ends and make it possible to bicycle from Downtown Pittsburgh to Washington, D.C. In the meantime, thousands of people are riding pieces of it, as are more than a few economic hopes and dreams.
We simply reveled in the trail's natural splendors -- the perfumed shade of the hemlocks and mountain laurel, the rock overhangs and the gushing waterfalls, the views of the rain-swollen river and even a water snake, plus handfuls of sun-warmed black raspberries.
That took our minds off our behinds yesterday as we pedaled the gently descending packed-gravel trail from Ohiopyle to Connellsville. The ride was part of the "River Sojourn" that the state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources is sponsoring to celebrate the Yough as its River of the Year. Pittsburgh Post-Gazette photographer Annie O'Neill and I are among a fluctuating group of nearly 100 folks who, traveling 74 river miles by bike, canoe and raft, plan to arrive in McKeesport on Saturday.
The Yough River Trail actually starts where we started this sojourn, in Confluence, 11 trail miles to the south of Ohiopyle.
The unfinished segments of the 43 miles from Connellsville north to McKeesport should be completed by next year. But trail manager Bob McKinley said that already some 300,000 annual visits were being logged on that segment, with 200,000 visits on the southern segment -- most of them by bicyclists.
That means more than a lot of too-tight shorts and sore butts.
"This trail is affecting the whole valley," said McKinley, a panda bear of a man who is employed by the nonprofit Regional Trail Corp., one of the Sojourn sponsors. He already knows what huge regional assets the river and trail are. Places along the way still are learning.
He tells of formerly somnolent towns such as West Newton having to regulate weekend traffic jams of bicycles. Two women recently opened an outdoor clothing store there -- just one of many businesses opening up and down the trail.
McKinley said the trail was the main reason four of five bed and breakfasts in his area had opened recently, "and I know of two more coming." He can go on and on.
We saw for ourselves in Connellsville, where new trailside businesses include a bike shop and a restaurant called the Mile Marker. The trail goes right through town on its own flower-decorated, dedicated bike lane along Third Street. A sensor activates the green traffic light where bikes have to stop at the main drag, so the bikes can cross.
Whether it was to open the outfitting store or the new jewelry store or to renovate dumpy houses, "The bike trail definitely was the shot in the arm that got people interested in coming into the west side," state Sen. Richard Kasunic, D-Dunbar, told me after the tasty lunch the townspeople served us in a picnic pavilion at Yough River Park.
In the mid-80s, when he was in the state House, Kasunic heard proposals about the trail and thought, "Come on, get real. We need jobs."
But now that the trail finally is coming together and trail users are spending money here, he's a convert. Just maybe, he thinks, one of these bikers is a CEO of a big company who will fall in love with Connellsville's recreational charms and want to open a business here.
We sojourners sure were charmed by our greeting, which included everything from multiple proclamations to a stained-glass factory/gallery tour to the Heritage Singers of West Overton -- in Civil War-era garb that seemed to invite heat stroke -- singing period songs such as "Welcome, Welcome, Every Guest."
Unfortunately, my tent-mate, O'Neill, had just laid down for a nap on a picnic table when they fired up.
She and I are tired and tanned, but we're still having fun. Yesterday morning, she and I even took our first showers.