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Post Your Problems
Lawrence Walsh: Bike shuttle works well at Ohiopyle

Friday, September 29, 2000

Unless bicyclists want to retrace their route, getting from Point A to Point B can be a hassle, especially on some rails-to-trails bike paths.

It's a waste of time, gasoline and money.

When several readers called earlier this summer and asked about bike shuttle services along the bike trail that parallels the Youghiogheny River, I referred them to Paul and Terry Burke in Boston, near McKeesport. The Burkes can be reached at 412-754-1493.

The Burkes, along with daughter Gia, operate a service station, bed and breakfast, gift shop, bike rental, canoe livery and shuttle service along Smithfield Street in Boston. They're a one-family economic development team.

Paul Burke frequently shuttles canoes and bikes to Buena Vista (eight miles up the river), Sutersville (11 miles) and West Newton (16 miles). Occasionally, he has shuttled bikes as far as Connellsville (about 40 miles).

The cost for the shorter trips ranges from $10 to $15, depending on the number of bicyclists. It can be less, especially for groups. "I'm pretty reasonable," he said.

Although the commercial rafting companies in Ohiopyle provide "Pedal and Paddle" packages to their customers -- pedal your own or a rental bike up to Confluence and paddle a canoe, inflatable kayak or raft down to Ohiopyle -- they don't routinely shuttle bikes to other locations.

Then I remembered one of the "Now hear this" mass mailings I received several years ago from Ralph McCarty of Monroeville.

McCarty, the founder of Mountain Streams & Trails Outfitters, one of the commercial rafting companies in Ohiopyle, had proposed a bike shuttle that would take bicyclists as far north as Connellsville and as far south as Meyersdale, a distance of about 60 miles.

So I called him in June.

"Couldn't get any funding, so I moved on to other things," he said.

McCarty, who has more energy at age 80 than I did at age 40, called me back a few days later and said he'd use his "lunch money" to bankroll a bike trailer.

Some months and $2,500 later, Mike McCarty, who, with his wife, Elaine, now operates the company his father started, pulled into Confluence on Sept. 16 with what can only be described as the Cadillac of bike trailers. The custom-designed trailer is 16 feet long and can carry 14 bikes, none of which comes in contact with the one next to it.

Danny and Arlene Yanda of West Hempfield, who are 55 and 53, respectively, and hadn't ridden a bike in 25 years, climbed into McCarty's 14-passenger van.

They were joined by four middle-aged neighbors, Paul and Marge Jackson, and Gaylor and Toni Hajek. Paul Jackson so admired one of the rental bikes mounted on the trailer that he left his own bike in Confluence. The Jacksons and Hajeks are veteran bicyclists.

The rain that had fallen earlier in the morning held off during their 10-mile bike trip along the level-as-a-table trail from Ohiopyle to Confluence. McCarty picked them up at the trailhead, about two miles downstream from the town. They had lunch at the River's Edge Cafe, a restaurant along the bike trail in Confluence.

"We had a wonderful time," Arlene Yanda said. "It's something couples and families can do together, it isn't expensive and it's fun. And Mike, who told us about the history of the area as we drove to Ohiopyle, was very accommodating. I'd do it again in a flash."

Her husband and the Jacksons echoed her remarks. The Hajeks couldn't be reached for comment.

Mike McCarty said the shuttle will operate from Confluence to Connellsville, a distance of about 28 miles, and include stops in Ohiopyle. The $10 cost includes a shuttle to the next town and the use of a new rental bike. Customized shuttles that include meals and luggage transport also can be arranged.

"We'll probably lose our shirts for a couple of years, but we think it will catch on," Mike McCarty said. "We want to buy two more trailers, so we'll always have at least two of them on the road. We hope the demand for them will be there."

It already is, said Linda Boxx of the Allegheny Trail Alliance, the umbrella organization for seven local rails-to-trails groups. She said the alliance gets a lot of calls and e-mails from bicyclists looking for shuttle services.

Boxx said the alliance also is looking for a shuttle service for weekend or weeklong bicycle trips. If you know of any, please call the alliance at 724-853-2453. Its e-mail address is atamail@atatrail.org.

For more information about the Mountain Streams shuttle, call (800) 245-4090.

Some bed and breakfasts and guest houses along the trail also provide shuttle services for their guests.

And, whether or not you use a shuttle service, the Youghiogheny River Gorge is gorgeous in the fall.

Post Your Problems appears Tuesday through Friday, addressing questions and problems from readers. Yvonne Zanos from KDKA-TV looks into consumer-related issues, including difficulties with products and services. Post-Gazette Staff Writer Lawrence Walsh helps sort through bureaucratic problems.

Lawrence Walsh can be reached at 412-263-1895. His e-mail address is lwalsh@post-gazette.com.

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