Waterfront link completes Great American Passage bike trail

| Monday, June 17, 2013, 4:41 a.m.

At last there is a contiguous, dedicated bike lane between Pittsburgh and Washington, D.C.

The final link of the 330-mile pathway into Pittsburgh officially opened Saturday with much fanfare and celebration, from the Waterfront in Munhall to Point State Park in Pittsburgh.

The historical significance of the 150-mile Great Allegheny Passage, as the trail is known between Cumberland, Md., and Pittsburgh, was appreciated by many of those who participated in the Point Made! celebration.

Trail planners and organizers, present and former elected officials and a host of other federal and state agents shared stories about the GAP's development over a 35-year period that began when the Western Maryland Railway stopped using the rail line that would evolve into the trail.

The moving recollections were shared on stages in the parking lot between Costco in the Waterfront and Sandcastle water park, and at Point State Park.

Former Pittsburgh Mayor Tom Murphy recalled his efforts in the 1990s to convince corporate giants such as PNC, Alcoa and the Steelers to make room for the trail as they were preparing to build new facilities along the riverfront.

Regional Trail Corp. project manager Jack Paulik reflected on his involvement with designing the last nine miles of the trail into Pittsburgh, a project that took seven years and $13 million to complete because of property issues and heavy industrial development along the corridor.

Allegheny Trail Alliance president Linda McKenna Boxx, who many of the speakers credited with being the primary coordinator for all things trail-related, said it was the vision and hard work of volunteers, trail council leaders and foundations who made the dream of the trail a reality.

“Magic is the operative word here,” Boxx said.

Hundreds of cyclists attended both events, pedaling along the 6.5 miles of trail between the two stages.

It was a leisurely paced journey thanks in part to Seth Gernot of Swissvale, who from the Sandcastle stage urged riders to take it slow and safe all the way to the Point.

Gernot, who was among a group of cyclists who made a special 24-hour non-stop trek from Washington, said the trail is meant to be savored, though he acknowledged, “At 2 a.m. in Ohiopyle, we weren't going so slow.”

The express riders carried a flag that had flown in Washington on Friday. It was raised Saturday in Point State Park.

Kevin Brandt, who is Superintendent of the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal National Historical Park, said the lining of the C&O Towpath Trail with the GAP and the latter trail's completion into Pittsburgh was fulfilling a dream of George Washington, who 260-years ago said there should be a canal link between the Potomac River and the Ohio River Valley.

With the founding father's plan at last completed, Brandt said communities along the trail will continue to reap economic benefits. He said efforts are under way in Maryland to improve the towpath, which can be rough and muddy.

With blue skies and temperatures around 80 degrees, it was a great day for biking.

Special events, parties, music and outdoor activities went on all day at the

Wheels at the Waterfront celebration. Trail and bike festivities were incorporated into the Three Rivers Arts Festival.

The Pittsburgh ceremony concluded with the unveiling of the Western Terminus marker at the end of the trail at the Point by the fountain.

The ground-level marker features an iconic rendering of the rivers and point and reads “Point of Conflict, Point of Confluence, Point of Renewal.”

Eric Slagle is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-664-9161 ext. 1966, or eslagle@tribweb.com.

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