We all know someone who is passionate about a trail, waterway or another asset in the community. They work so hard at making it a reality, usually without asking for their name to be part of the process. That’s why, every year, the public is invited to nominate any individual, group, or organization for recognition of the work that they do to enhance or protect a greenway or trail in northwestern Pennsylvania.
The Council on Greenways & Trails, servicing Venango, Clarion and parts of Crawford County, has presented three awards in each of the past six years. The 2018 awards were presented to local people and groups, but the projects they are completing demonstrate how they can be part of a much greater vision.
James E. Holden Greenways Volunteer of the Year
The 2018 award went to Mr. Mike O’Neil for donating many hours of engineering experience to the development of the Rail 66 Country Trail, a non-motorized, 4-season trail that stretches through the scenic countryside of northern Clarion County. Currently twelve miles long, Rail 66 is part of the much longer Knox-to-Kane rail trail project, which will be 70 miles long. This regional system will connect communities to other regional assets including state parks and the Allegheny National Forest. And the vision continues as this system is one of several that are being connected into the multi-state, the Industrial Heartland Trails Coalition. IHTC members are working toward a vision of more than 1,500 miles of trails in Pennsylvania, New York, Ohio and West Virginia — an effort already halfway to completion. Mr. O’Neill was also presented with a citation for his efforts from Pennsylvania State Representative Donna Oberlander.
Thomas J. Allen Greenways Partner of the Year
Trails on land or water connect people to nature and the communities around them to economic benefits. Tom Jennings, the creator and organizer of the Oil Creek 100 Trail Runs, was recognized for bringing race participants to Crawford and Venango counties from all over the world. The OC100 race brings runners to the trails and history within Oil Creek State Park. “People from many states even train here to prepare for the race. And they’re providing some economic impact to the Oil Heritage Region,” said Leah Carter of Titusville Renaissance, Inc., who presented the award. During the week of the race, all of the hotel rooms in the region are filled. Restaurants and other businesses and venues also service not just the racers but the family and friends that come with them to cheer them on. This local race has become sanctioned for qualifying steps in other national and international events. Tom was also recognized by several at the award ceremony for something that he does every year: he stands at the finish line and greets every finisher with a smile, a task that usually takes over 24 hours.
CGT Greenways Neighbor of the Year
This year’s Neighbor of the Year award, which recognizes contributions by a group, went to volunteers with the Clarion County chapter of the North Country Trail, who developed a new loop trail that connects Clarion Borough to the Clarion River. “The three-mile Clarion Loop has become a local treasure,” said Layne Gering, the president of the Council on Greenways & Trails. He said, “The idea for a trail began in 2013 when I met the president of Clarion University at a social event, and she said she really wanted a trail.” Once finished, the trail has been used frequently by not only the college students and staff but also by the community interacting with nature and the students. Though the North Country National Scenic Trail crosses seven states, the local connections are just as important. Long distance trail users need goods and services and local trail users enjoy an asset that benefits their community.
The 2018 CGT Greenways Awards ceremony occurred at the Oil Creek Memorial Landing in Oil City, PA.
“We chose this venue for the award ceremony because it is the trailhead for the McClintock Trail, which is part of the Erie to Pittsburgh Trail (EPT),” said Kim Harris, CGT board member. The EPT is also part of the multi-state IHTC vision.
All of this year’s Greenways Awards winners will receive a serviceberry tree planted at a site of the recipient’s choice. Also, a custom-made bronze plaque will be placed by the trees to commemorate the tribute.
The Council on Greenways and Trails may be contacted at nwpagreenways.org.