Picture a 1,500-mile trail connecting Pennsylvania, Ohio, West Virginia and New York.
The trail would connect 51 counties, establishing one of the largest multi-use trail networks in the country.
There’s only one essential piece of the trail network missing: Beaver County.
The Industrial Heartland Trails Coalition‘s (IHTC) vision for this massive trail unit would connect Ashtabula, Ohio, to the confluence of the three rivers in Pittsburgh, with Beaver County as the entry-point into Pennsylvania. From there, other trails would spider off from Pittsburgh, going north to Erie and New York, southwest to West Virginia and east to Harrisburg.
On an even larger scale, Beaver County’s role would also add the county to the Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail, which covers 5,000 miles from Oregon to Pittsburgh, following the routes of the Lewis and Clark expedition.
There are many moving parts to make these monumental trails a reality.
Locally, it would require a connection of trails from Monaca through Bridgewater, Beaver and Midland, and into Ohio. Additionally, the Montour Trail, which now extends through Coraopolis, would have to be connected through trails in Crescent Township and South Heights. From there, a seven-mile gap would remain between South Heights and Monaca.
Along that gap in Beaver County, sits Black’s Run Bridge, which crosses Route 51 between Monaca and West Aliquippa. For Beaver County to become part of an inter-state network of trails, acquiring Black’s Run Bridge is the next step.
The Ohio River Trail Council (ORTC), which since 2009 has worked to create a network of trails throughout the county, conducted feasibility studies over the last 10 years to figure out the most viable route for trail development.
Using Black’s Run Bridge is the best option, said Mario Leone, co-founder of the ORTC and Ambridge borough manager.
“Black’s Run Bridge is so critical to the viability of a trail network through Beaver County,” Leone said. “It’s a critical pinch point.”
Before the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, the ORTC spent more than $60,000 in measures related to acquiring the bridge.
Black’s Run Bridge has been inspected by Larson Design Group, the roadbed along Old State Route 51 has been examined by the Pennsylvania Environmental Council and Steffey Trail Connections, and the crossing at the Mancini Bridge has been studied at length by Environmental Planning and Design.
According to a study conducted by the Pennsylvania Environmental Council, when schools and businesses closed in mid-March of 2020, trail use spiked so significantly the industry effectively kicked off the trail season a month earlier than usual. Some trails across the state saw close to a 100% increase in activity when compared to previous years.