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Sheepskin Trail will have economic impact on community

The Allegheny Trail Alliance is conducting a study to determine the economic impact of the trails that make up the Great Allegheny Passage trail system, which includes the Yough River Trail that goes from Myersdale to McKeesport, passing through Connellsville.

A study done in 1998 showed that almost $14 million was spent relative to the trail, from hotel accommodations to bicycle rental and purchase to food and retail purchases. In short, it revealed what many believed when planning for the trail began several years ago: that a major recreational opportunity, like the Yough trail, would bring a much-needed infusion into the local economy.

We have no doubt that the 2002 study, which will run through November, will show that the economic impact of the trail has increased in the last four years. We have no doubt as well that continued enhancement and expansion of the region's existing trail system will further benefit the economy well into the future.

Fayette County appears poised to reap those benefits within the next few years. The county announced recently that it had secured a $375,000 grant through the Transportation Enhancement Act for the 21st Century. Combined with a similar grant of $365,000 obtained two years ago and $60,000 from the state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, the county now has $800,000 to use to begin construction on the Sheepskin Trail.

The Sheepskin is a 33-mile trail that will connect the Yough River Trail at Wheeler to the Mon River Trail in West Virginia. It passes through Dunbar Borough and Township, North Union Township, Uniontown, South Union Township and Point Marion before connecting with the Mon River Trail. The trail will cost $7 million to $10 million to complete; the funds secured thus far will help build approximately seven miles. Construction could begin this summer; completion is anticipated for seven to 10 years.

The Sheepskin Trail, like the Yough River Trail, will be well worth the investment of time and money. The Sheepskin will connect to the American Discovery Trail (ADT), a 6,300-mile-long trail system that goes from coast-to-coast, from Cape Henlopen State Park in Delaware to Point Reyes National Seashore in California.

Hundreds of thousands of people use the Yough River Trail, part of a larger trail system that runs from Washington, D.C., to Pittsburgh, each year. Many stop at communities along the trail, like Connellsville, spending money at local business, restaurants and motels and hotels. By connecting the trail to a transcontinental trail, which the Sheepskin will do, it's conceivable that the number of bikers and hikers using trails in Fayette County will increase substantially, boosting the economy even further.

When the Allegheny Trail Alliance releases the findings of its current study next year, it's likely to show an increased economic impact from the existing trail system in the region. When the Sheepskin Trail is completed, and a new study is done, we're sure it will show even greater benefits.

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