Hiking, biking path in Latrobe's sights
By Joe Napsha
Published: Tuesday, March 19, 2013, 8:30 p.m.
Latrobe is seeking a $500,000 matching grant from the state to convert the former railroad corridor along Lincoln Avenue into a 1.6-mile hiking and biking path, which the city hopes will improve its livability.
“A recreational trail adds to make it a very sustainable and walkable community. It is another enhancement for the central and eastern part of town,” said Nick Felice, executive director of the Latrobe Community Revitalization Program, one of several partners in the revitalization of the Lincoln Avenue corridor.
Latrobe council last week approved allocating $35,000 to serve as part of the $250,000 match that would be required to obtain a $250,000 grant from the state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources.
The Latrobe-Unity Parks & Recreation Commission would apply for the grant and “will do the yeoman's part of the work,” said Alex Graziani, Latrobe city manager.
The cost of revitalizing the entire corridor — which once was used by the Ligonier Valley Railroad that connected to the Pennsylvania Railroad's main line through Latrobe — has been estimated at between $1 million and $1.3 million.
Money would have to be raised to cover the remainder of the matching funds, and Graziani said he hopes that Carpenter Technology Corp., the Reading-based manufacturer that acquired Latrobe Specialty Metals, would provide some financial support for the revitalization efforts. A rear section of Latrobe Specialty Metals, which is in partnership with the city on the project, is along the Lincoln Avenue corridor.
Latrobe Councilwoman Rosie Wolford, council's representative on the parks and recreation commission, said the rejuvenation of the Lincoln Avenue corridor would be a big boost for that section of the city.
The Latrobe Foundation last year paid $105,000 to acquire the corridor from Norfolk Southern Corp., which took ownership of the right of way when the railroad acquired Conrail's lines.
A feasibility study has been completed and a group of Indiana University of Pennsylvania students under the direction of D. Whit Watts, assistant professor of geography and regional planning, has developed a conceptual plan for revitalizing the old railbed, from Depot Street to Hillview Avenue.
The students proposed creating a greenscape that would feature installing park benches; planting trees, shrubs and bushes; extending the curbs to make it safer for pedestrians; and creating a bioswale — a planting of native plants such as Cherokee sedge grass, and flowers that will act as a natural filtration system that absorbs water and removes silt and pollution from storm-water runoff. The students, who are studying planning, divided Lincoln Avenue into six “districts”: the Brinker Street Neighborhood, from Depot to Main streets; the Fairway Neighborhood, from Main to Fairmont streets; the Great Divide Neighborhood, from Fairmont to James streets; the Mixed Bag Neighborhood, from James to Cedar streets; the Strip District, from Cedar Street to East Harrison Avenue, which is the section along the Lincoln Road Shopping Center; and the Steel Town District from East Harrison to Hillview avenues, adjacent to the Latrobe Specialty Metals plant.
A trail head at Depot Street by the Weiss Furniture store would be a great location for a community gateway because it is the beginning of downtown Latrobe, at the northern end of the city, according to the student project. The Brinker Street Neighborhood, so-named because Brinker was an early residential development, would be a good site for large-canopy trees, small bushes and flowers.
The IUP students suggested clearing the rail-bed debris in the Fairway Neighborhood and planting trees and creating a bioswale in that section, as well as the Great Divide Neighborhood. A pedestrian bridge, they said, should be built in the Great Divide Neighborhood and part of the guardrail should be removed.
The students suggested streetscape improvements and curb extensions to shorten crosswalks in the Mixed Bag Neighborhoods; street art for the Strip District, with signs designating bikers, walkers and traffic-calming devices, such as roadway bumps and crosswalks.
To give the Steel Town district a more attractive look than that of a steel-manufacturing mill, the students suggested painting murals along the sides of some of the buildings facing Lincoln Avenue. The murals could promote Latrobe's history, including its history as a manufacturing center.
Community leaders supporting the project want to have the IUP students return to Latrobe this spring for a “field day” — a survey of the site, Felice said.
As of now, the recreational trail would end at the Latrobe border, city officials said.
An extension to the Latrobe Skating Rink would cross over into Derry Township, but a group of township residents living along Ligonier Street Extension two years ago presented the township supervisors with a petition opposing a walking trail behind their homes. The petition claimed that the trail would adversely affect their privacy and lower their property values.
In addition to creating a recreational path along Lincoln Avenue, Latrobe Community Revitalization Program has worked on plans to connect Legion Keener Park with St. Vincent College via another recreational path.
Joe Napsha is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-836-5252 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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