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Alliance hires coordinator to get more seniors riding and walking

Tuesday, August 20, 2002

By Virginia Linn, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

When Yvonne Merrill was little, she enjoyed riding her bicycle to deliver the afternoon paper.

As she got older, her interest in sports grew to cross-country and downhill skiing, rafting, canoeing and hiking. "Anything that takes me outdoors is something I want to be doing."

Yvonne Merrill is bringing up the rear on a ride along the Cedar Creek Trail one morning last week. That's her granddaughter Marcela Ladewig with her and friends Della and Lee Bovey of Clairton in the lead. Merrill is the new Older Adult Project Coordinator for the Allegheny Trail Association. (VWH Campbell Jr., Post-Gazette)

She bought a bike again about seven or eight years ago and rediscovered an earlier passion. She's also developed a love for the Great Allegheny Passage, the longest rails trail in the East, extending 100 continuous miles from McKeesport to near Meyersdale and including other smaller segments in the Pittsburgh area.

At age 53, she's not quite an official senior citizen, but she's taking the lead in encouraging older adults to use the network of riverfront trails.

She was recently hired as the Allegheny Trail Alliance's Older Adult Project Coordinator and has been holding seminars for seniors and distributing information about the trail's recreational opportunities. The position was created with a $50,000 grant from the Jewish Healthcare Foundation.

"When an opportunity came to work for the Allegheny Trail Alliance, it fit me to a 'T'," said Merrill, who lives in Greensburg at the foot of the Laurel Mountains. "Going on the trails, it's like church to me. It renews my soul."

Her focus is the health benefits of walking or cycling on the trail, as well as the camaraderie that develops among enthusiasts.

She's found a lot of interest in the trails among seniors, but they need to be comfortable with the idea. They're concerned with several aspects: How exactly do they get there? Are there parking and bathroom facilities? Are there places to eat? What will they see along the trail? Can they get lost?

And many aren't aware of the vast opportunities available -- even in the Pittsburgh area.

A trail segment growing in popularity runs along the Waterfront development in West Homestead and Homestead.

"You can combine exercise with a light lunch, a movie, specialty coffee," she said. "You've got a view of the Homestead Grays Bridge. The river is right there, it's bustling with activity. You see artists down there painting the landscape. There are benches, beautiful lamp posts, fully equipped restrooms."

The alliance, a coalition of seven trail organizations in southwestern Pennsylvania and western Maryland, is working on a guidebook on trail walks in and around Allegheny County, which describes the routes, histories of the areas, facilities and access. It also partners with Elderhostel to put on trail-related events.


You can reach Yvonne Merrill at the Allegheny Trail Alliance, 1-888-ATA-BIKE, or check the alliance Web site at www.atatrail.org

For information about CCAC cycling classes or the Cycle Paths, call Peggy Krall at 412-600-0675.

Registration is under way for the leisurely fourth annual That Dam Ride to Confluence Sept. 7-8. Co-sponsored by the Rivers of Steel National Heritage Area and Mon Yough Trail Council. Three mileage options: ride the Youghiogheny River Trail 30 miles each way from Connellsville ($59), or 70 miles each way from Boston, Pa. ($59); or ride the Tour de Confluence, an approximate 10-mile tour of the Confluence area ($29). Register online at www.thatdamride.org or call 412-462-5328.. Deadline is Aug. 23.


Marie Francetic of Versailles started walking the trail near Boston 10 years ago. She's now 84, and is often joined by her niece from Elizabeth Borough. She particularly likes the friendly people she meets along the route.

Peggy Krall, who owns and operates Golden Triangle Bike Rentals on First Avenue, Downtown, for four years has introduced seniors to the riverfront trails through one of the cycling classes she teaches at the Community College of Allegheny County.

Krall has seen a steady growth of interest among seniors in the course, which has led to creation of a bike club called the Cycle Paths. Participants ride every Monday on a different segment of the trail. Begun with six riders, it now includes more than 80 people, with an average of 20 riders showing up on the weekly rides.

One new member had walked regularly for years on the loop around the North Park lake and had gotten bored with the route. She ended up buying a bike from Krall and has "discovered a whole new world out there."

Clairton residents Lee Bovey, 71, and his wife Della, 63, took the class two years ago as a way of getting back into cycling after riding bikes as children. They golf and walk the malls for exercise, but were looking for something more challenging.

They now ride with the Cycle Paths on Mondays and do another ride during the week. "When you're with a bunch of seniors, you don't feel like you're with the Tour de France," said Lee Bovey, a retired engineer. "You stop to smell the flowers, take a rest, move on. It's a pleasant ride."

He's so enthusiastic about his cycling experiences that he's starting a bike touring company for seniors that will focus on the trail stretch along the Youghiogheny River.

The Boveys ride mostly on weekdays and see more seniors than any other group of riders or walkers.

Lee Bovey, like Merrill, is trying to spread the word about trail.

"Everybody I mention it to, the next thing I know, they're out there with me."

Virginia Linn can be reached at vlinn@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1662.

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