Roaring Run Watershed Association celebrates 30 years, 5 miles of scenic trail

Mary Ann Thomas
| Saturday, March 9, 2013, 12:01 a.m.

The Roaring Run Watershed Association is set to celebrate 30 years of slow but steady growth.

As it celebrates its 30th anniversary the nonprofit recreation and conservation organization has covered extensive ground just outside of Apollo.

When the association first converted 1.5 miles of abandoned railroad line into a bike and walking path along the Kiski River, it was known as the Roaring Run Trail.

Now, there are 5 miles of main trail, stretching from just outside of Apollo to Edmon in Kiski Township; the 1.5-mile Rock Furnace Trail along Roaring Run' and the 1.5-mile Kiski River Trail meandering from Apollo to North Apollo.

The watershed association's holdings have grown dramatically — from less than 20 acres to 650 acres. That includes the Roaring Run valley, with its signature waterfalls and 15 miles of mountain bike trails lacing the wooded area.

No longer just a trail, the area is now called the Roaring Run Recreational Area.

50,000 visitors each year

“We started out as a watershed group but now we are a land trust, a trail builder and we provide environmental education programming with the schools,” said Rich Dixon, vice president of Roaring Run Watershed Association and former Apollo mayor.

“We have created a destination from property that was abused by mining and littering,” said Dixon, who has been on the board for 20 years.

What a destination Roaring Run has become.

Free to the public, Roaring Run draws an estimated 50,000 hikers, cyclists and mountain bikers per year. Plus, there's the portion of the 25,000 people who canoe and kayak the Kiski River who stop via the new kayak launch installed in 2010.

During pleasant weather, the parking lot for the main trail along Canal Road — with its 105 spaces — is often full.

Mines to trails

The Roaring Run area has been treasured for its outdoor beauty and diverse plants for more than a century.

Even years of coal mining and illegal dumping did not squash the trillium that carpets the hillside and patches of trout lilies that dot the damp hollows in early spring.

And then there's the rollicking stream rushing over large boulders — Roaring Run, itself — that's still the centerpiece of the watershed.

L.C. Denise, wrote in “Trillia,” published in 1916 by the Botanical Society of Western Pennsylvania: “The dashing stream rushed over and under great rocks; leaps over falls, and bubbles under boulders; so that, when the stream is full of water, it is well named ‘Roaring' Run.'

“It speaks with a voice so thunderous that human speech is drowned out in its mighty roar.”

Group's secret: slow but steady progress

The group's secret for success: slow — but continuous — improvement.

“We have had good people leading the organization and it was a matter of just pushing it along and slowly doing things,” said Max Sapinsky, of Oklahoma Borough, who has been on the board since 1997.

He designed and built two bridges on the trail, including a 72-foot cable suspension bridge over Roaring Run.

For members of the watershed association, it's been a small group of people that moved their own proverbial boulders, raising an estimated $3 million in grants and donations in the last 30 years.

The money has funded a flurry of projects that, like the Kiski River, itself, just keeps coming — from acquiring more property to trail expansions to building parking lots.

In fact, the group just raised $25,000 to build a 17-car parking lot in the Pegtown section of Apollo, at the intersection of Route 66 and McCain Street.

Next up is helping the Kiski Valley Greenways connect the Roaring Run to other trails in the region including ones from Saltsburg and Freeport.

Mary Ann Thomas is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-226-4691 or mthomas@tribweb.com.

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