The idea for the 9/11 National Memorial Trail was presented just days after the events of September 11, 2001, as a way to pay tribute to those who lost their lives in the attacks. In the years since, that idea has come to life as a 1,300-mile system of trails connecting the sites of the three plane crashes.
This week, U.S. Representative Brian Fitzpatrick of Pennsylvania and Virginia Representatives Gerald Connolly and Don Beyer introduced a bill which would authorize the Secretary of the Interior to formally designate the 9/11 Memorial Trail. Supporters of the bill hope to get it passed by this coming September 11th, the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks.
“Our bipartisan legislation designates a trail that connects each of the different sites attacked, providing us an ongoing opportunity to come together and reflect on that tragic day,” said Rep. Fitzpatrick.
The majority of the 9/11 National Memorial Trail uses existing roads and multi-use “host” trails to form the route between the Flight 93 National Memorial in Somerset County, the National 9/11 Pentagon Memorial in Arlington, Virginia, and the National September 11 Memorial and Museum in New York City.
“There is so much potential for the trail to enhance and improve the economic development that has already occurred with some of the trails that host the 9/11 route.”
“The organization has been pursuing numerous avenues to achieve some sort of federal designation for a while,” said Brett Hollern, Program Manager at PEC and member of the 9/11 Trail Alliance Board of Directors and Executive Committee. “This is one of the more exciting opportunities we might have to achieve federal designation. It would certainly highlight the effort and bring additional resources to the project.”
The 9/11 Trail also provides opportunities to elevate existing trails and boost local economies. Much of the route between New York and Virginia follows the East Coast Greenway, while the route from Virginia to Pennsylvania makes use of the C & O Canal Towpath and the Great Allegheny Passage. These destination trails generate tourism, increasing the demand for businesses like restaurants, hotels, and outdoor outfitters in surrounding towns.
Plans to build new trail segments in Pennsylvania are also underway. Last September, Somerset County broke ground on the first segment built specially for the 9/11 Trail. The 1.4-mile segment is part of an envisioned 20-mile connector between the Flight 93 Memorial and the Great Allegheny Passage. This new segment would bring trail visitors through the Borough of Garrett to Berlin, PA – two towns that have not experienced substantial tourism prior to the construction of the trail.
“There is so much potential for the trail to enhance and improve the economic development that has already occurred with some of the trails that host the 9/11 route,” said Hollern. “If people are starting to go to Flight 93 from the GAP Trail, or even doing the 9/11 Trail as a whole, Garrett now has the opportunity to become a trail town. And a town like Berlin that has a lot of history also has a great opportunity to become a trail town that wouldn’t have happened without the 9/11 Trail project.”
The connector trail from the Great Allegheny Passage to the Flight 93 National Memorial is situated within the Laurel Highlands Conservation Landscape, a region that has been identified by the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources as a priority area for protection of ecological and cultural assets. The official designation of the 9/11 National Memorial Trail would support the Landscape’s goal of stimulating community and economic development by connecting people to outdoor recreation and natural resources. PEC has helped lend capacity to the effort to connect the Great Allegheny Passage and the Flight 93 Memorial, as well as investigate and facilitate potential funding opportunities.