Bridge completion brings Butler-Freeport Community Trail links within reach

| Sunday, Aug. 24, 2014, 12:11 a.m.

The completion of the Freeport Bridge brought the Butler-Freeport Community Trail one step closer to connecting with proposed links into Pittsburgh and Armstrong County.

As part of the bridge project, a large new trail head was created where the three trails would merge.

The link would allow Butler-Freeport trail users to travel the 20 miles from Father Marinaro Park in the City of Butler through Freeport on a proposed link toward the Armstrong County Trail or continue south on a planned extension of the Rachel Carson Trail to Harrison Hills Park.

“It really is an exciting junction of trails,” said John Stephen, trail development consultant with the Rachel Carson Trails Conservancy. “We'll see a lot of trail alternative experiences come to fruition. People can return to the area and experience a different trail every time.”

The connection is part of the Community Trails Initiative, introduced four years ago. The 22-mile system of trails involves 17 communities along the Allegheny River. The project is a missing link for regional trails such as the Three Rivers Heritage Trail to the Armstrong Trail, the Erie to Pittsburgh Trail and the Pittsburgh to Harrisburg Mainline Canal Greenway.

It's been four years since an engineering firm conducted a feasibility study and Friends of the Riverfront held informational meetings. But the communities involved still are committed and working on completing their portions.

Trail developments take many years because of planning and finding the funds to create the trails.

“The funding sources alone for what it takes to do things like this are amazing,” said Chris Ziegler, president of the Butler-Freeport Community Trail Council. She noted that it cost nearly $400,000 to complete the final four miles of the northern section of that trail.

Securing agreements from railroad companies to place trails near tracks also is a long process. Communities must consider traffic volume and safety when deciding whether to use a local roadway as part of the trail connection.

The Harrison section of the trail is tricky, officials there said, because there are three options through the township from Brackenridge up to Harrison Hills Park. Each has its pitfalls and advantages.

Harrison Commissioner Robin Bergstrom said she's committed to seeing it through.

Having a marked trail, even if it is on a roadway, would make it a safer route, she said.

“That way, people who are driving a car know to watch out for bikers,” said Bergstrom, who has frequently biked through town.

From the Armstrong County side, the hurdle is getting from Ford City to the Kiski River where it flows into the Allegheny near Freeport. A former 8-mile section of trail between Ford City and the Schenley section of Gilpin Township is no longer usable because the Kiski Junction Railroad reactivated its rails there to haul coal.

“Now we're trying to get funding to see if there are other ways we can make connections,” said Ron Steffey, executive director of the Allegheny Valley Land Trust, which was established to maintain the Armstrong Trail. “The Freeport Bridge was a major connection for us for bicycles to be able to go across there.”

Freeport officials are excited about the opportunity to have an increasing number of trail users come into town.

“Recreation is a growing activity among young people, and, hopefully, with the trails convening in Freeport, what we can do is encourage the type of retail shops that can cater to those types of people,” Freeport Council President Don Rehner said. “It would provide our own residents with a lot of activities as well.”

Jodi Weigand is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-226-4702 or

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