New pedestrian bridge across Mill Creek officially opens
Members of the community joined the Ligonier Valley Recreation Board and Ligonier township and borough officials to open the pedestrian bridge across Mill Creek connecting to the first portion of the Ligonier Valley Trail & Bikeway to the sports complex at Weller Field Saturday.
A ribbon-cutting ceremony was led by the project's manager Rose Stepnick.
“Rose has been the driving force behind getting the trail going, especially the bridge,” said Larry Shew, who will be taking on the role of trail project manager this month when Stepnick and her family move to Connecticut. “She kept it alive and kept it moving despite reluctance from others on the board. She had the vision, now they all see the results.”
In addition to individual contributions, the project was funded by the R.K. Mellon Foundation, McKenna Foundation, the Ligonier Valley Endowment and a PA Department of Conservation and Natural Resources grant to support the Laurel Highlands Conservation Landscape Initiative that was coordinated through the Lincoln Highway Heritage Corridor.
“This is a fine example of what happens when two communities (Ligonier Borough and Ligonier Township) work together,” said Paul Fry the borough's director of public works. “This little bridge has really linked the communities together.”
Fry said he first became involved in the recreation board's vision for a bridge to connect the two communities four years ago.
“Rose asked me to sit in on the meetings,” he said. “At times they had troubles trying to raise the funds. When a lot of the people gave up, Rose kept focused. That bridge would not be there without the dedication of Rose Stepnick.”
Ligonier Township Supervisor Tim Komar agreed Stepnick was the key behind the Ligonier Valley Trail project.
“After I became supervisor seven years ago, I got a visit from Rose,” Komar said. “When she told me ‘We need a trail,' I told her ‘I deal with roads.'”
Komar said Stepnick eventually convinced him she would find grants to fund the project. Soon his crews were mowing a portion of the old Ligonier Valley Rail Road bed.
“As soon as we mowed it, people started to walk on it and it grew from there,” Komar said.
He said the experience broadened his concept of community service.
“Rose was someone who came from out of the area and tried to tell us how to do things,” he said. “I soon realized you need a different viewpoint from someone to see there is a broader horizon. I don't know anybody else who would have kept at it the way she did, though. It's another example of how when communities work together, good things can happen.”
Prior to the opening, borough and township crews worked with Shew to weld the two portal archways he designed and crafted into place on both sides of the bridge.
“After we got the bridge ordered, some of the board members started talking about signage on the trail,” said Shew. “Rose showed us photos of other trails and one had an arched portal sign.”
Shew said since the trail was actually on a rail bed, he thought a railroad-esqe style would be appealing.
He said the ll-foot spans took about six weeks to complete. After he cut the nine-inch sheet steel letters, he welded them into the arched tube frame.
“The arches make it a little more different than any other bridge of its kind,” Fry said. “The design and blended colors set it off.”
Komar said the arches make the bridge unique.
“The arches are what makes that bridge the Ligonier bridge and not just a bridge,” said Komar. “It symbolizes how Ligonier is different from other communities, and that is what makes it so special.”
During Saturday's ceremony, Stepnick was presented with a facsimile of a plaque that will be mounted on the bridge.
“We decided to call it the “Rose Stepnick Crossing,” said Komar. “That pretty much sums it up. Without the bridge we would not be crossing the stream. It connects two boundaries between two municipalities. It opened up a whole new world of resources and recreation.”
Stepnick said she was grateful for the recognition of her efforts, but it couldn't have happened without every added effort of all the people who served on the recreation board over the years and all the volunteers who showed up at all the work days, kids events and open houses combined.
“The decision of the borough and the township to work together on this project is nothing but good news for the people that are now on the trail,” said Stepnick. “Honestly, seeing people on the trail is still the thing that will always put a smile on my face. Please use it in good health Ligonier Valley.”
Fry said he was amazed how many walkers, runners and bikers are already using the bridge.
“It is obvious the people of Ligonier want to get out and use the bridge,” said Fry. “People of this community are very health conscious. I see them early in the morning and into the evening. So many people are always out for a walk. This will give them another trail.”
Komar said people stop and tell him how peaceful it is to walk on the trail and bridge,
“Any time I have been down at the bridge since it was put in place, somebody is always walking or biking on it,” Komar said. “It's the new thing in town right now.”
Fry said he is confident Shew will be a good leader for the trail committee.
“He will take the reigns right where Rose left off,” said Fry.
Shew to focus on next phase of trail
Shew said he will focus on the next phase of the trail, extending the trail north from Peoples Road to the north side of the Ligonier Camp and Conference Center this summer. The trail will connect the sports complex at Weller Field to the soccer fields in the township.
Shew also plans to install trail signs throughout the borough using an $1,800 DCNR grant and matching funds from another contributor.
The marked trail will follow a path from Dice Alley to Church Street, then east on Church Street to Bell Street and south to Loyalhanna Street, passing by the fort. The trail will continue to Walnut Street north to Bunger and back to Dice Alley.
“We picked streets that did not have a lot of traffic and no hills,” said Shew. “So no one will have to push a bike up a hill.”
The trail will pass by prominent locations in town, like the fort, the YMCA and the former train depot building and other historical sites of interest.
Deborah A. Brehun is a staff editor for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-238-2111 or firstname.lastname@example.org.