County's recreation director appreciates hard work on Westmoreland Heritage Trail
These days, Malcolm Sias, Westmoreland County's parks and recreation director, spends more time working on trails than he does biking or running on them.
But by the way he talks about the Westmoreland Heritage Trail project, it seems like he's OK with that.
He described a busy section of Route 22 in Murrysville: cars, traffic, businesses, chaos. Then he lowered his voice.
“You drive down into that Turtle Creek Valley, where the trail meanders along Turtle Creek, and it's quiet,” he said, describing the tranquil tree-lined trail just paces from the busy roadway.
What started as a schematic on a piece of paper in 2001 is slowly becoming a reality. County leadership and community members gathered Saturday to celebrate the opening of the 5.9-mile, Phase III, Trafford to Murrysville section of the planned 22-mile Westmoreland Heritage Trail.
“It's a multigroup effort,” Sias said. “And it's an effort that really draws people together, causes partnerships to happen and gets people excited about doing stuff in their community.”
Even after 35 years with Westmoreland County Parks, that excitement is not lost on Sias. He joined the department in 1982 as a program coordinator, planning festivals and community events, after spending a few years working for Allegheny County and completing a degree at Penn State in parks and recreation management.
Today, he lives in Unity Township in the house his grandfather built, near Twin Lakes Park.
“It's just exciting to put this stuff in people's neighborhoods, where they can enjoy it,” said Sias, who is no stranger to trail construction. He has been involved in trails since 1989, when he started working on local sections of the Great Allegheny Passage.
At that point, he wasn't sure if the passage would be completed. But such projects take time, he said, as land is acquired, plans are drawn up and communities are engaged. Piece by piece, the puzzle comes together. The Great Allegheny Passage now connects Pittsburgh to Washington, D.C., and Sias is applying the same patience to the Westmoreland Heritage Trail project.
While his job is to focus on providing recreation opportunities for the residents of Westmoreland County, Sias hopes that the new trail can have a positive economic impact on communities it touches as well.
That optimism is shared by Rey Peduzzi, former mayor of Trafford and a longtime supporter of the Westmoreland Heritage Trail project.
Peduzzi is one of several volunteers who have been helping to clean up and maintain the existing portions of the trail, but credits Sias as the “prime mover” of the project.
“He is very instrumental, aggressive, and I would say a people person, able to get a lot of things done,” Peduzzi said of Sias.
“This trail coming in here is really going to be a dynamic change,” Peduzzi said, describing Trafford as a small, elderly community. Extending the trail to Trafford will give businesses along the route a boost, in addition to making it easier for local residents to enjoy the outdoors.
The trail is an asset for those who already live here, but it's also an opportunity to attract new tourists and residents, said Ann Nemanic, chairman of the Westmoreland County Parks and Recreation Citizens Advisory Board. The bustling Route 22 corridor has already started to attract new businesses and development; the addition of the trail is likely to make the area even more appealing, she said.
In addition to being a place for residents to exercise and an opportunity for economic growth, Nemanic pointed out that the trail project, under the leadership of Sias, has brought people together.
“He can look at a piece of property and visualize what it can be as a recreational asset to the community,” Nemanic said, adding that Sias' efforts to connect with people and to get all of the communities the trail touches involved contributed to making the trail a reality.
And in that sense, the project seems to be a success, having already brought people together and provided a physical space for people from different towns and neighborhoods to connect and mingle.
“You realize the big picture when you see the opportunities to provide these things to communities,” Sias said.
On Saturday, that big picture began to come into focus as county officials, volunteers and community members gathered to celebrate the opening of the Phase III portion of the Westmoreland Heritage Trail.
Dozens of cyclists came out to join the first official ride on the new portion of the trail—many had already explored it ahead of opening day—and participate in the ribbon cutting ceremony at the Roberts Trail Access point in Murrysville. The ceremony would be repeated twice more, at new trail heads in Monroeville and Trafford.
By 2019, the plan is to have 18 miles of the 22-mile trail complete. After that, the parks department will tackle the remaining 4-mile section between Export and Delmont. Someday, Sias hopes the Westmoreland Heritage Trail will be linked with Great Allegheny Passage access points near Trafford.
Jamie Martines is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org, 724-850-2867 or via Twitter @Jamie_Martines.