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Bike path honors off-road enthusiast

Sunday, November 07, 1999

By Bill Heltzel, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

A couple dozen people went mountain biking yesterday with Jeff Barr, though Barr wasn't actually there. Barr, 37, died six weeks ago while competing in a mountain bike race at Ohiopyle. Yesterday, friends and family gathered at Forbes State Park to dedicate a trail in his memory.

To understand why people would go to the trouble of getting state permission to rename an obscure mountain trail, one has to understand passion. Barr's passion for mountain biking was go great that his love of the sport became contagious.

"I think half of the people of Mount Pleasant have bicycles because of him," said Jodi Barr, his widow.

Barr got hooked seven years ago after his wife bought him a biking magazine and he started watching television coverage of the sport. Before long, biking became his life.

Every weekend, whatever the weather, he recruited friends to ride in the mountains. He rode his bikes around town and sometimes to work, 15 miles away at the Menasha Corp. in Yukon, keeping off the road as much as possible. He never missed the Fat Tire Festivals at Seven Springs and Hidden Valley, and vacations were always biking trips.

Barr loved the downhill. He found overgrown paths on hills so steep that he had to pull himself up by the tree branches as he carried the bike on his back to the top. Then he'd careen down, defying gravity and avoiding crashes.

"He got a blast from that," said friend Mike Shumar.

Barr was hyper-competitive, but he used his skills not to exclude the lesser-talented but to win converts. "He treated everyone as his equal," Shumar said, and everyone felt he was Barr's best friend.

He scouted out trails for his daughters, Shayna, 9, and Shyanne, 6. He introduced novices to easy Rails-to-Trails routes, then urged them to take on the more challenging woods.

In the summer, he and his brother, Brian, discovered an overgrown path that intersected Pike Run Trail in Forbes State Park. They began clearing away the brush and obstacles to open it up for others. Later, he recruited friends to help with the work.

On Sept. 26, he competed in the Ohiopyle Mountain Bike Race. He was found off the trail, his bike resting against a bank, his hands still on the grips and his feet on the pedals.

"The coroner said he had 99 percent blockage of his coronary arteries," his wife said.

The mountain biking fraternity was devastated. Mike Shumar and Todd Daniels finished clearing the trail that Barr had discovered. But Daniels, who even today gets emotional about his bond with Barr, wanted to do more.

"I felt it would be fitting for his wife and girls to have a place," he said.

He and Shumar and Shumar's wife, Tammy, went to work on getting the four-mile Pike Run Trail renamed the Jeffrey Barr Memorial Trail.

State Rep. Jess Stairs of Acme and State Sen. Allen Kukovich of North Huntingdon cleared the way in Harrisburg and District Forester Dave Williams approved the memorial.

Barr's father-in-law, Don Scott, built the memorial, as well as directional signs for the trail. Yesterday, 50 people gathered at the trailhead along Route 31 near Jones Mills. Half brought their bikes for a four-mile ride to Kregar.

First, the memorial was dedicated.

"I believe his spirit is with us today," Jodi Barr said, "because he would never miss a ride through the woods."

Brother-in-law Jack Feick gave the eulogy.

Then Jodi announced, "Let's ride!"

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