Hefty grant will fund trail development work in region

A few more gaps in the 270-mile long Erie to Pittsburgh Trail, a journey that cuts through Venango and Clarion counties, are due to be upgraded within the year thanks to a grant made possible with extensive collaboration between counties and the state.

“This is exciting because it includes a major missing piece in our Oil Creek State Park Trail,” said Kim Harris, recreation project manager for the Oil Region Alliance.

The Oil City-based Alliance is an economic development agency that includes trail development/tourism promotion in its agenda.

Crawford County, a location for part of the bicycle and walking trail, successfully applied for a $1.5 million Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC) grant for trail construction work. .

One project was the PA Wilds Loop Trail for work on the Knox & Kane Rail Trail that connects Kane with Kinzua Bridge State Park.

The second project focuses on the Erie to Pittsburgh trail that runs through Erie, Crawford, Venango, Clarion, Armstrong and Allegheny counties in Pennsylvania and Chautauqua County in western New York.

Local trail work

There are missing links on that lengthy trail, and the grant addresses three of those sections. The grant funds will be directed at the East Branch Trail between Titusville and Corry, the 105-year-old Brady railroad tunnel along the Armstrong Trail and the Oil Creek State Park Trail.

“Kim, who sits on the Erie to Pittsburgh Trail board, was instrumental in the preparation of that grant application,” said John Phillips, CEO and president of the Alliance. “This whole thing is about partnerships and we at the Alliance are a regional hub organization to bring the entities together.”

Harris said the trail work will include paving, site clearing, signage and more. The areas to be worked on include four miles on the East Branch Trail that goes from Spartansburg to Oil Creek State Park, one mile of the in-park Oil Creek State Park Trail and preliminary work to open the Brady Tunnel in Clarion County.

“We have three miles yet to do in Oil Creek State Park and this will do one mile of it, with the rest phased in,” said Harris. “Now, the trail is a share-the-road with the park road. And the goal is to all be off-road.”

There are more funds, too, earmarked for the bicycling and hiking trails. Harris said a state grant of $136,000 has been received to improve the Ritchie Run trail spur near Emlenton and $35,000 for an engineering study at the Rockland Tunnel portion of the trail.

The Erie to Pittsburgh Trail plan was conceived in 2004, and seven counties signed on to be part of the 270-mile trail. When completed, it will stretch from the bayfront in Erie, travel north along Lake Erie to Brocton, N.Y., and then head south to Point State Park in Pittsburgh.

It is 60% complete at this point and should be about 90% done by 2029.

“That 2029 year will mark the 90th birthday for Jim Holden, a local man who was president of the Erie to Pittsburgh Trail Alliance,” said Harris. “This is a huge partnership with just a group of trail organizations maintaining their sections. This is a network that works well together. And we are smack in the middle of the trail.”

Holden passed away a few years ago.

The economic impact that the trails have on the local economy is substantial, said Harris.

Likewise, outdoor recreation is reaping benefits across Pennsylvania, according to the Pennsylvania Environmental Council that assisted Crawford County in its efforts to obtain the $1.5 million for trail improvements.

“At a time when other sectors are struggling, the state’s $29 billion outdoor industry appears poised for growth amid renewed interest in multi-use trails,” noted the council. “Research indicates trail use is up dramatically statewide, with 2020 traffic surging nearly 200% in some areas. This growth has occurred despite a global pandemic and ongoing recession, suggesting untapped potential in currently underserved areas.”