Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, Pennsylvania has seen a sustained increase in trail traffic across the state — a trend that will likely continue into the fall, underscoring the importance of maintaining safe and accessible trails. The past few weeks have been especially eventful, both for trail projects themselves and for the discussion on supporting and sustaining them in the future.
On September 15, Frank Maguire, PEC Program Director of Trails & Recreation, gave testimony before a state legislative policy committee on the need for continued government funding for trails and outdoor recreation, especially in light of this increase in trail usage (view video of the hearing here). As the General Assembly grapples with unresolved budget issues this fall, PEC has redoubled its efforts to ensure that lawmakers understand the economic importance of well-funded outdoor recreation programs, as well as their value for public health and quality of life in the Commonwealth.
As PEC and other trail advocates made the case in Harrisburg, communities in western PA celebrated progress on long-anticipated trail development projects, including the 9/11 Trail, which broke new ground in Somerset County, and the Knox & Kane Trail, which added three new miles in Kane, PA. These projects help connect local trail sections to larger networks and will bring economic opportunities to the communities through which they run.
On September 4, 2020, supporters gathered in Garrett, PA, to celebrate the groundbreaking for the September 11th National Memorial Trail’s Flight 93 National Memorial Connector. A crowd of 80 spectators celebrated the kick-off for the 1.4-mile segment of the eventual 18-mile connection from the Great Allegheny Passage to Flight 93. This construction is the first standalone segment of the September 11th National Memorial Trail. Generally, the route of the trail relies on existing on-road segments and “host” trails, such as the Great Allegheny Passage and the East Coast Greenway, to connect the three September 11th National Memorials.
“With this groundbreaking today of the first 1.4 mile section, we begin the journey to complete approximately 49 miles of additional trail opportunities here in Somerset County which will ultimately provide a better quality of life for everyone in our area and much appreciated tourism dollars,” Somerset County Commissioner Gerald Walker told attendees at the ceremony.
The extension of the Knox & Kane trail brings similar benefits. On September 3, 2020, a three-mile section of trail opened in Kane along what used to be a rail line. This new section will connect Kane to wider trail networks, such as the PA Wilds Loop and the Erie to Pittsburgh trail, as well as the nearby Kinzua Bridge State Park.
“As we build it out longer, we look at it as an asset that’s going to attract others to come here and join us,” said Tom Kase of the Trail Association of the McKean/Elk Divide. “It’s going to become another cog in our economic engine.”