Pennsylvania Legacies #215: Riding NEPA Gravel

Northeastern Pennsylvania (NEPA) is a burgeoning cycling destination, with hundreds of miles of gravel, singletrack, and paved roads that offer pristine views of natural areas and visits to historic towns. Thanks to the efforts of locals and a concerted plan to promote the region, people are taking notice.

As the introduction to a recent report from PEC notes, northeastern Pennsylvania has a lot in common with other parts of the state. Once a major source of coal, the region has struggled with the industry’s decline.

But what sets NEPA apart is also what has the potential to revitalize its communities. That report, “NEPA Trails: Assessing Connections & Community in Northeastern Pennsylvania,” developed with local stakeholders, notes the wealth of natural and cultural assets that, paired with vast expanses of public land, could make the region a destination for bicycle tourism.

The report focused on eight counties — Carbon, Lackawanna, Luzerne, Monroe, Pike, Susquehanna, Wayne and Wyoming — that comprise the NEPA Trails Forum, a loose alliance of organizations, government entities and individuals who are involved with trail development. Initially, the report sought to identify trail gaps and advocate for the creation of interconnected trail systems, including a rail-trail corridor that would extend from Philadelphia to the New York border.

“As we started working on the ground, talking to people up there and doing some field work, [the report] ended up evolving based on the needs of the region and what we saw,” said Helena Kotala, PEC Program Manager for the Central Region and one of the primary authors. “We did realize that the region could benefit from a more comprehensive look at the cycling culture and assets and how to leverage those.”

The region already has a lot to offer, like the Delaware and Lehigh National Heritage Corridor, the D&H Rail Trail, and the Lackawanna River Heritage Trail, with more projects underway. Hundreds of people flock to NEPA each year for gravel rides like the Lu Lacka Wyco Hundo, which in years past has sold out in minutes.

The founder of that event, Pat Engleman, is a NEPA native who has been riding the region’s gravel roads for decades.

“In northeastern PA, there’s always been a strong ridership up here,” Engleman said, adding that the infrastructure hasn’t been there.

He sees gravel riding as a catalyst for economic development and community building. For the Lu Lacka Wyco Hundo (so named for the counties through which it passes), Engleman commits to sourcing materials and food from local businesses and partners with local government when planning events.

“They’ve all been embracing it,” he said.

What NEPA is missing, Kotala said, is a recognizable brand as a cycling hub. Developing such an identity was one of the report’s recommendations, as well as fostering buy-in from communities and creating a culture that welcomes cyclists.

That’s the approach that the Endless Mountains Heritage Region took when it set about establishing a bikepacking loop extending approximately 430 miles through Bradford, Sullivan, Susquehanna and Wyoming counties.

The project arose from a partnership with the Endless Mountains Visitors Bureau, Bradford County Tourism Promotion Agency, Northern Tier Regional Planning & Development Commission, and avid cyclists like David Landis, who helped to design the route.

“It’s just beautiful,” Landis said. “You connect all of these state parks and state forests.” He added, “You can see the scene is growing, and people are really friendly and welcoming for people like me biking through.”

As part of that effort, the Endless Mountains has created a bike-friendly business program, with the intention of ensuring cyclists have access to repair and charging stations, food and lodging during their trip. To celebrate the route, there will be a “grand depart” — or an en masse, self-supported ride — on Saturday, Sep. 21.

PEC also hosts its own gravel event each year. The PEC Public Lands Ride will return to Black Moshannon State Park on September 28. The assisted group ride, ranging from 20-65 miles in length, offers aid stations with refreshments and finishes with a cookout. If you can’t make it for the in-person ride, we also have charted virtual routes across the state. More information on gravel riding is available at

Episode Links

Josh Raulerson (00:01):

It is Friday, May 17th, 2024. This is Pennsylvania Legacies, the Pennsylvania Environmental Council’s Podcast, and I’m Josh Raulerson. Gravel riding is a relatively new name for an activity people have been doing for years, and it’s pretty much what it sounds like. Generally it means cycling on dirt or gravel surfaces, though routes can also traverse just about any surface, including pavement, single and double track, mountain bike trails, and even rail trails. The sport has found a home in northeast Pennsylvania where communities have increasingly looked to outdoor recreation as a diversification strategy and a hedge against economic downturns, of which the region has seen its share over the years. Northeast PA is particularly well-suited for gravel cycling, with hundreds of miles of unpaved roads leading through forests over mountains, and connecting to historic areas. That’s one reason PEC worked with local stakeholders last year to publish a report that explores opportunities for creating and enhancing routes and for building a local culture around gravel. Part resource, part handbook and part roadmap, the report aims to make the region a premier outdoor destination for bicycling tourism. Here to tell us more about the research and the outlook for gravel in NEPA is PEC’s Helena Kotala, program manager for the central region and an avid gravel rider.

Derek Maiolo (01:25):

What prompted PEC to look into and publish a report on NEPA trails?

Helena Kotala (01:30):

So this report kind of follows a model that we’ve used in the past, basically looking at an entire region as a whole, rather than one specific trail or one specific county, and kind of looking at how trails can connect to form a greater system. And even just beyond trail connectivity, looking at how all the cycling and outdoor assets in a region can be connected and leveraged for tourism, economic development, getting more people outside health and wellness and all the, all the benefits that we know that trails and the outdoors provide. And we’ve seen that broader scale reports like this can help leverage more funding so they can leverage funding for individual trail projects and gaps because those funders can see how they relate to this much bigger vision and, and bigger picture than just that trail or that one mile gap. And the NEPA report started off more, more focused on like multi-use trail connectivity, looking at the gaps and how to close the gaps.


But it ended up as we started working on the ground, talking to people up there and doing some field work ended up evolving based on the needs of the region. And what we saw there was already a really strong network of trail organizations who had kind of a good handle on the gaps, knew what they were doing, and there were a lot of longstanding roadblocks like property issues and some other issues that just wouldn’t be necessarily solved by us, like putting them in a report. So we did realize that the region could benefit from a more comprehensive look at the cycling culture and assets and sort of how to leverage those. So a number of our recommendations ended up being much more focused on like the broader cycling culture of the region, not necessarily specific trail gaps to close that. We did have some recommendations on those, too.

Derek Maiolo (03:29):

This report was described as part resource, part handbook, part roadmap. What were some of those takeaways, or how do you hope this report can be used?

Helena Kotala (03:39):

Probably one of the biggest takeaways is that the region really has a lot to offer, both in terms of multi-use trails, gravel roads, mountain bike, trail systems, and just overall outdoor spaces. But it doesn’t really have a really recognizable brand, especially as a cycling destination, even though it is a really great cycling destination. There’s a lot a number of long-distance trails like the D&L, the Lackawanna Heritage Trail, the D&H Trail, a variety of different mountain bike systems scattered all over the region. And then in the northern part of the region, like most of the roads are gravel and there’s some really great gravel riding. So a big takeaway is that they, these should all be taken advantage of and leveraged and marketed better in a way that kind of does them justice. And some of the other recommendations included fostering buy-in from communities to create a welcoming and inclusive cycling culture and kind of like lean into that conducting an economic impact study, which would measure like the current impact of cycling and projected future impact. And that can be a tool that’s used to foster more support and then also foster more funding opportunities in the future. And then as I mentioned, we did recommend some key gaps to close. So there’s a few key gaps that once they’re closed, it would create a multi-use trail rail trail stretching all the way from the New York border to Philadelphia. And so that’s a, yeah, that would be a pretty incredible asset.

Derek Maiolo (05:14):

The NEPA trails report mentions bikepacking, and you gave a seminar on bike packing at the latest Philly bike Expo. So can you first just explain what, what is bikepacking?

Helena Kotala (05:28):

So basically bike packing is traveling on your bicycle for more than a day. So, so sleeping overnight somewhere, whether that is camping or it could be in a hotel or a B&B or your friend’s house. Bikepacking and bike touring can sometimes be confusing. And honestly, I don’t think anybody agrees on what the difference is between them. Like touring is kind of the more traditional term. And I think a lot of people when they think of that, they think of mainly just like on road using equipment like, like panniers. And then when people think of bikepacking, it’s more like, could be a mix of surfaces like gravel or some trail and more with bags that are kind of strapped to your bike, like seat bags and, and frame bags that are a little more able to handle rough terrain. Like I said, there’s, I don’t know that there’s a specific definition that different differentiates between them. It seems like bikepacking is just becoming the more mainstream term. It just seems like more and more folks are using that term versus bike touring. But yeah, simple answer is, is traveling on your bike for more than a day.

Derek Maiolo (06:41):

And how did that activity play into the NEPA trails report?

Helena Kotala (06:44):

There currently is a very new bikepacking route that was being developed when we were working on the NEPA Trails report. It was developed by the Endless Mountains Heritage region among some other partners up there. It’s about 450 miles called the Endless Mountains Gravel Bikepacking Loop. And there’s going to be a, the first grand apart on it is this September. A grand depart is basically like a group of people start riding it on the same day. Some people are sort of trying to race it to see how fast they can do it, and then some people are just touring and want be out there. There’s other people out there. It’s a very, like, it’s totally self-supported. It’s, there’s no like aid stations or anything. People just have to, to carry what they need and stop at, you know, gas stations and cafes and, and whatever along the way. So that was in development when we were working on the report and they were super excited about it at the time. And still are because it is one of the first like really well publicized bike packing roots in PA. NEPA’s not super well known as a cycling destination, but all the times I’ve ridden up there, it’s been great.

Derek Maiolo (08:07):

What are some opportunities for people to get involved with some of PEC’s own cycling programming?

Helena Kotala (08:12):

So one of the main events that we do each year called the Public Lands Ride that takes place typically the last weekend of September this year it’s September 28th, and that takes place at Black Moshannon State Park, which is just northwest of State College. It is a supported gravel ride. It’s not a race, it’s not timed, but there are eight stations and a post ride meal and sort of hangout party. There’s three different distances you can choose from anywhere from 22 miles to about 65 miles. So like the short course is a great way to see what gravel’s all about. It’s pretty approachable. It’s a very relaxed environment. It’s not a race, but you have the support of the eight stations and sort of a group of like-minded enthusiasts. And then we also have a collection of public lands ride routes at different state parks and forests throughout the state. So you can check those out and do, do them whenever suits you. So if you just look up PEC Public Lands Ride, you’ll find information on all of those. We also recently took over an event called Bikeout, which is an overnight bike packing adventure. It’s very approachable geared kind of towards beginners and that takes place in the greater Philadelphia region. Registration is closed for this year, I believe, but stay tuned about that for next year.

Derek Maiolo (09:35):

Well, thank you so much, Helena. I appreciate you taking the time to talk.

Helena Kotala (09:38):


Josh Raulerson (09:45):

As communities in the northeast and beyond embrace cycling, many people are looking to promote the trails they already have as well as plan new ones. David Landis is a route designer with Village 2 Village Trails and he’s been working with the Endless Mountains Heritage Region in NEPA on a 430-mile bikepacking loop. The route passes through Bradford Sullivan, Susquehanna, and Wyoming Counties consisting mostly of gravel, but with a few paved miles included mostly to connect cyclists with local breweries, B&Bs museums and other amenities. My colleague, Derek Maiolo, spoke with David Landis during the Philadelphia Bike Expo back in March. They talked about that bikepacking route and its growing popularity.

David Landis (10:31):

So I’ve been working with the Endless Mountains Heritage Region to help develop and further promote their bikepacking loop. It’s called the Endless Mountains Gravel Bikepacking Loop, a 430-mile route that goes through the four counties up there. It’s a 65% unpaved using really amazing gravel roads up and down. It’s like a 40,000 foot of climbing route. So it’s pretty challenging, but it’s not technical to promote the region and support local businesses and, you know, help sort of tell the story of the place. I think the idea came from Donna, who was the county commissioner of Sullivan County. She’s a gravel rider, bike packer, and she just retired from her role. She’s riding across the U.S. now, but I think she had this dream to link up all these great roads into a bike packing route. The Endless Mountains region is, it’s just beautiful.


I mean, you connect all of these state parks and state forest and just, there’s so many gravel roads, like the percentage of gravel roads versus unpaved, it’s, it’s just really up there with a lot of different routes out in the whole Mid-Atlantic region. So I, I rode the whole route last August and just had a great experience. The people were super friendly too, and you get into all these little towns and there’s not that many bike packers yet, but you know, you can see that the sea’s growing and people are really friendly and welcoming for people like me riding through. So that was a lot of fun. The Endless Mountains Region has made a bike friendly business program, which it helped intent. The intention is to connect local businesses to the cycling community and, and think through like, what does a cyclist need If they stay in a hotel room, like their bike can go in the room, there’s a place to wash their bike.


So a lot of the folks from the tourism board for the Heritage Region have been working with local businesses to you know, facilitate that and make that simpler for cyclists. And then also to show the, the benefits of cyclists coming in, bringing in, you know, more financial resources and more connections with people from outside the area. And a way to celebrate the uniqueness of the region. The people working to develop the route are super enthusiastic to, to welcome bike packers and gravel cyclists and they keep thinking of, you know, new ways to help facilitate that and be more welcoming. They, they had this idea to do a self-supported bikepacking race, like a Grand apart. So this September 21st of September, there’s going to be a mass start to ride the whole 430 miles. And ideally, we get a whole lot of people out there to, you know, some will race it, some will tour it, but they just want to experience the route and challenge themselves to finish it and finish it as fast as they can.


So that’s the idea. If you go to Endless Mountains and look up the gravel bikepacking loop, you can see a registration. So there’s also a Facebook page, an event, and an Instagram account. You can follow along. More information will come out in the next month or two. But yeah, the basic stuff is there. I just helped them with a sort of a testing and assessment last year, and then they got a DCNR grant to do this event in September, and I’m hoping next year they’ll get another grant to further flesh out a bunch of day rides off the loop. But it’s, it’s kind of a process. It’s just so many good gravel road.

Josh Raulerson (13:37):

Well, if you know anything about gravel riding in Northeast Pennsylvania, you have Pat Engleman to thank for that. A Pittston native, Pat founded the Lu Lacka Wyco Hundo, named for the counties through which it passes, more than a decade ago. What started out as a few friends getting together to ride has transformed into one of the state’s most popular gravel riding events, often selling out minutes after registration opens. Pat has gone on to organize other rides, including the Starrucca Crossing scheduled for as I record this, this weekend, Saturday, May 18th in the Endless Mountains Heritage Region. Here’s Pat Engleman speaking with Derek Maiolo, and another conversation about the growth of gravel riding in the Northeast.

Pat Engleman (14:21):

I grew up in Northeast Pennsylvania, so I, there was dirt roads everywhere, you know, like, it’s funny if you call it gravel road around here, they’re like, what are you talking about? There’s called dirt roads up here. But yeah, just kind of started taking my road bike or my touring bike off road because some of my friends were, you know, we just started doing that like, oh, like, okay, wait, how far can we get these road bikes? Then we started to look around and find out that there were like dirt roads go places and doing events like the hub hundred in back in the day. And then also Monkey Knife FIght kind opened my eyes going like, wait, the people will come out and do this. So I kind of had, had some ideas and I did I was actually up in northeastern, northeastern Pennsylvania.


It was around Father’s Day, many moons ago, probably 2012 or so where I was up here and about to go on a, on a ride. I missed the ride. I was late because I was in a meeting ,and so I went trying to, and try to find the group knowing kind of like where they went. And I ended up on all these dirt roads. I kept just finding more and more dirt roads. I just, I couldn’t get enough like I rode all night. I mean, it was like dark by the time I was getting back to my car because I was like, I just like gobbled up all these dirt roads and it was this one area called Harvey’s Lake. There were dirt roads around there, and I knew like where it kind of led to, so I just all started to connect it.


I’m like, man, I should start doing this. And then literally the next day I went for a ride in, in search of some of the dirt roads I knew of, and I was like, I should invite my friends up here. You know, I grew up up here and I talk about home all the time. Like when I mention home, although I’ve been in Philadelphia since 1997, this is still, this is still my home. I always want to get my friends up, but like they’re busy lives and work and you know, kids, you know, at back and that, that time families were starting and stuff like that. So I’m like, well, maybe I should like do an event and like, haven’t come up for the weekend, but like, not like a big full blown thing. Like let’s just have somewhere to go with like porta-potties and like get dinner afterwards.


And that’s all it was planned for. So I put it out on Facebook and said, Hey, do you think some of you guys might want come up and do this? And 18 people showed up and gave me 20 bucks to cover the food for the day. We did it at a brewery and that was it. So that was 2013, kind of where the first year of the Lu Lacka was. Like I said, Susquehanna a brewing company and their first year we were the first event they were, they ever put on the first event they were hosted there. But the yeah, 18 people showed up and gave me 20 bucks and we did it.

Derek Maiolo (16:29):

In the years of, you know, you’ve been doing this this ride and, and just biking in northeast Pennsylvania, how have you seen the culture around cycling change in northeastern PA?

Pat Engleman (16:40):

There’s always been a strong ridership up here. I mean, there’s always, like, we have people like Phil Cable was a pro on the road and we, we had the, the Terry brothers were pros on the road and pros on the track, and like we, we always had strong riders up here, but the infrastructure wasn’t there. The Wilkes Barre Triathlon, Lance Armstrong won at one point, like there’s a strong cycling history up here, but just the infrastructure hasn’t been here because it’s, it’s a, you know, it’s a rust belt area, you know, coal, when coal left, it kind of decimated the area and, and so there’s hasn’t been a lot of infrastructure, but in the start of the ride and up till now, the infrastructure’s changed so much. There’s movements to make more bike paths. Lackawanna counties building trails, Luzerne County’s building trails, Wyoming County is getting more access to the wilderness.


So much more is happening. It just happens to be a beautiful piece of time in history that all this stuff is happening at the same time. But I think that helps, you know, like when you’re like, oh wait, yeah, we do bring riders from all over and some people in county government and stuff like that go, wait, yeah, these people do come up here. And when I talk to people about like, what the ride does and that when people come from all over the country to come up and ride these roads, then they, they don’t know what they have in their backyard, then their, then their interest is peaked and then they’re like, okay, well maybe we should do something to help out with these, these rides or maybe we should get involved somehow. So that has definitely changed the conversation and made it a little more normalized.

Derek Maiolo (18:01):

And what’s been the response from communities, you know, like you, have you heard from like businesses or it’s, you know, it sounds obviously like local leaders have, have been pretty supportive a about getting infrastructure out there. But you know yeah, what’s been the response from people who live and work in these places?

Pat Engleman (18:19):

They love it. I mean, I hear, I hear from like neighbors who grew up with my parents or like, oh, it’s so beautiful to see all the, all the, all the colors go by. You know, like when, when everyone, all their jerseys and stuff like that. You go right through right through my neighborhood I grew up in, so like they, and that’s like early on in the ride. So, you see all the people, you know, people having a good time and talking and laughing. And then the local government thinks it’s great. We’ve partnered with Pittston, downtown Pittston in the past. We’ve worked with Luzerne County, Lackawanna County, like they’ve all been like embracing it, you know. I want to do more with them. I think in the future, I think there’s, there’s more to be done Strip crossing. Actually, this came from this course was developed as what was going to be the gravel national championships because people recognize like there’s a lot of gravel roads up here. If you look at a map of Susquehanna County, there’s barely a pave road up here. So I think working more with communities and realizing that, and also working with, with NGOs too, like you guys and like the Endless Mountains folks Route Six folks, like, they’ve always been really supportive because I think they recognize like the tourism groups recognize that those things are important. And I think like, you know, like in Endless Mountains has their own bikepacking route. Now, you know, the Route Six people understand the outdoors are important for that area, you know, for all Route Six and all that. This, this northern tier area. Everyone I’ve, I’ve been able to talk to, but there’s only so much bandwidth. Like I wish I had more time, like it didn’t, my full-time gig, like I think would be, it would be different.


But like, there’s only so much time for myself and also in, in, in state and county and and regional governments. There’s only so much time to do so many things. And that’s why some of the work that PEC is doing and, and not just stroking your egos, I think it’s great that like PEC is making strides that help us make those connections to those people that like, I can’t, I don’t have that time. Or Dave Prior is not that time or, or, you know, folks are putting on Mammoth, don’t have that time, but you guys do and that’s what you do, right? Or you already have those connections and I think that’s huge of what’s what, what PEC is doing and Helena has put together because that’s going to make those connections easier. And also going to normalize it that I’m not the weird punk rocker coming in and saying, I’m going to ride my bikes on those dirt roads. Now I’m the business owner, the community, the builder.


Like all those things that like, they see that side of it, you know, they don’t like, this guy’s a little weird and why is he riding his bike, you know, a hundred miles on dirt roads, local businesses absolutely love it. I mean that we can bring in I could tell someone, I just went pizza place, right? And I just went in and I just ordered from May 18th. I’m like, I need, I need 30 pies. You could, you could plan that for right now. And they’re like, okay, cool. Great. And I try to do everything I can locally. Like my medals are made locally, like these businesses are getting these things from us coming into town and like hotels are sold out and bars are busy and like, you know, all those things are, are positives of, of doing this and bringing people, bringing tourists to these regions is huge. And tourists you wouldn’t necessarily always attract, right? Because maybe they’re not skiers, maybe they’re not hunters. Maybe there’s, they’re not into the history of this area, but man, these roads are beautiful, so they’ll come and ride ’em.

Derek Maiolo (21:11):

What’s next for, for you and the, and for these rides, I think you’d mentioned kind of having an eye to the future. What do you, what do you see as, as being the next few years?

Pat Engleman (21:19):

For the foreseeable future? Lu Lacka has a few goals. One more people of color riding their bikes and feeling safe and comfortable. More folks who are not me riding their bike, feeling comfortable up here. Then also getting more people involved in the sport and connecting with the community and really making this something that, like the regional economy can rely on that every the second or third to last week of, of April, I can guarantee my hotels be sold out. I can guarantee my bar is going to be full that night. I know that’s happening and I could, you know, plan my year on that. And we’ve also done other things where I want to build the festival and build, build the community that comes ahead of it. The day before, like, because we were bringing those people in, but like last year we put on an, an outdoors festival that brought in hunters, that brought in skiers, that brought in everyone who uses the outdoors.


And that’s what I want to do is make this, the great connector is you might not be a hunter, but someone else on this ride is, you may not be a skier, but someone else on this ride is, and the outdoors are important to all of us. And I want to develop that community and build that community more, but also build a community so that people can rec recognize the beauty of Northeastern Pennsylvania. This is Vermont and it’s only two hours from New York and two hours from Philadelphia. So shh, don’t tell anybody. But it’s, and it’s, it could be Bend, Oregon, it could, it could be Burlington, Vermont, it could be those places. We have all those things. We just got to get people here and get people to recognize we have all those things. We probably have more of those things and we’re way closer. We have so much untapped potential up, up here.


I mean, we, the guys I was riding with the other last weekend, you know, a lot of it was a lot of like folks they, gray haired mountain bikers who talk about rides from the nineties and John Tomac as our God. We were talking about like how much stuff that people don’t know is out here. You know, like the waterfalls, we know of the caves, like the stuff that’s like buried in the back country. The average person has no idea what’s out there. Yeah, there’s a lot. There’s, there’s so much. So anyway, so my, my whole thing is, it’s, it’s building, it’s really, it comes down to it, I boil it down to is building, building community, right? Building community and, you know, help, helping everyone, everyone economically and, you know, and also just, you know, all those folks can benefit so much from a, just a little bit more of a push for the beauty of the outdoors here. You don’t have to just go to a show, you don’t, don’t just have to go to a ski mountain. You could do those things. That might be what you do at night or might, but you can also just go for a hike. It’s gorgeous.

Josh Raulerson (23:47):

And that’s Pennsylvania legacies for this time around. Thanks for joining us. If you’re curious about PEC’s research, looking at ways to grow gravel riding both the Northeastern Pennsylvania and across the state, check out our website at In the show notes for this episode, you’ll find a link to that report we talked about. You can also find information on other events and activities around gravel — in particular, PEC’s very popular Public Lands Ride, which happens every fall in Black Moshannon State Park and Moshannon State Forest up in Central PA. It’s a great time in a great introduction to the sport. You can find more information on that event, again via the links at in the web post accompanying this podcast. All of our past episodes are available to stream there as well. You can find out more about PEC’s work in trails and outdoor recreation, our efforts to protect and restore watersheds through reforestation and other activities, our research and policy advocacy in the areas of clean energy and climate change at We’ll be back in two weeks with another edition of Pennsylvania Legacies. Until then, on behalf of the Pennsylvania Environmental Council and Derek Maiolo, who did the heavy lifting for this episode, I’m Josh Raulerson. Thanks for listening.