Pennsylvania Legacies # 203: Trails Together

The Three Rivers Heritage Trail in Allegheny County extends more than 33 miles on both banks of the Allegheny, Monongahela, and Ohio Rivers. The robust trail network has been decades in the making and would not have been possible without an equally robust network of people committed to trail work — including, perhaps most of all, Allegheny County’s “trail czar,” Darla Cravotta.

More than 200 people joined Pittsburgh’s Friends of the Riverfront to celebrate the progress of the Three Rivers Heritage Trail and Water Trail during a fundraiser and mixer on Thursday, October 26. The event took place at Steel City Rowing‘s facility in Verona, where plans are in place to extend the trail through the boroughs of Oakmont, Plum and Penn Hills — collectively known as the VOPP Trail.

Under the theme, “Building Trails, Building Bridges,” the evening underscored the fact that building trails requires partnership and collaboration. State and local officials, nonprofit and business leaders came together to speak about what the local trail network means to them, and the opportunities it provides for the future of Pittsburgh and the surrounding area.

There was a lot to celebrate. Numerous trail projects are underway in Allegheny County, from the VOPP to a planned Turtle Creek Connector Trail, part of a partnership between PEC, Friends of the Riverfront, and the county.

“Folks are really excited to be connected with their relatives who live in nearby communities or their neighbors who may not have access to cars,” said Katie Kovalchik, trail development project manager for Friends of the Riverfront.

The trails already built provide access to neighborhoods, business districts, and local attractions, promoting a healthy lifestyle and safe routes for non-motorized transportation. Municipalities see them as ways to bring people to their communities and benefit from economic opportunities.

Darla Cravotta, known as Allegheny County’s “trail czar,” was a guest of honor at Thursday’s event. She received the Friends’ 2023 Martin O’Malley Award, which recognized her instrumental contributions to the trail system, work she’s been a part of since the 90s. In presenting the award, Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald recounted Cravotta’s longstanding and tireless commitment to advancing trail projects.

“If you ride a trail in Allegheny County, I want you to think about who built that trail, and it’s the woman right here,” Fitzgerald said. “We all get to benefit from the work that she does.”

We spoke with Cravotta and others at the event about trail projects past, present and future.

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