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Great Allegheny Passage Trail Town Program to add 4 areas

| Thursday, Feb. 27, 2014, 4:11 a.m.
Cindy Shegan Keeley | Daily News
Areas like this share-the-road section of the Steel Valley Trail in Munhall soon could benefit from improvements that the community and others will receive as designated members of the Trail Town Program. Riders will see Trail Town signs there and in Boston, McKeesport, Homestead, West Homestead and Pittsburgh's South Side.

Four local business districts are being added to the list of designated Trail Towns along the Great Allegheny Passage this year.

The Trail Town Program will officially welcome Boston, McKeesport, Homestead and the South Side of Pittsburgh as member communities during a kickoff event at the Bulgarian – Macedonian National Education & Cultural Center in West Homestead on March 19 at 6 p.m.

The event will mark the first time communities within Allegheny County have been designated Trail Towns. The Progress Fund program had only been operational in smaller towns along the trail in the Laurel Mountains and Western Maryland.

In addition to the local communities, the program is expanding to towns along the Erie to Pittsburgh, Montour, and Sheepskin trails and Trans-Allegheny Trail System.

Trail officials and community stakeholders say the designation has the potential to spur economic growth and tourism along the trail.

“We feel we are fortunate to have the trail coming through here,” said Lloyd Cunningham, a Homestead councilman and borough representative in the Steel Valley Enterprise Zone.

The enterprise zone applied for the designation for Homestead, which will include the neighboring Steel Valley communities of West Homestead and Munhall.

Cunningham said the designation can be a step toward developing a better interface for bicyclists between the trail in the Waterfront and the business district along Eighth Avenue.

Though Trail Town designation doesn't automatically generate dollars for trail-related projects, Cunningham said it could benefit communities when applying for grants.

Cunningham said he'd like to see a bike route built from the Historic Pump House in Munhall to Amity Street to allow cyclists to reach Eighth Avenue without having to contend with traffic.

A strip of public green space runs between railroad tracks that would enable such a link. There has been talk of using that space for a storm water bioswale and a memorial to the region's steelmaking heritage.

Cunningham said the bike path, bioswale and memorial could be built together and seen as enhancements to each other. The Trail Town designation could help funding efforts for such projects, he said.

Trail Town program manager William Prince said the designation may help communities looking at larger projects like the proposed link in the Steel Valley, but there are many ways it can help accomplish smaller plans.

Improved signage, informational kiosks and added bike racks are some of the lower cost ways Trail Towns can bolster tourism, he said.

The program will perform assessments of the new communities this spring to identify and prioritize trail needs, said Prince.

Prince said out-of-town trail users on the South Side may benefit from low-cost sign projects that direct them into that neighborhoods's vibrant business community.

Joyce MacGregor of the McKeesport Trail Commission said the city has everything to gain and nothing to lose by getting the Trail Town designation. She said better signage could go a long way toward boosting business growth along the trail.

“We're hoping that more people use the McKeesport Trail Loop,” MacGregor said. “We feel it's good for economic development.”

MacGregor said the designation could help the McKeesport Trail Commission achieve some of its bigger goals such as attracting a hostel to the city for trail users. She said commission members are looking to organize a trip to Rockwood in Somerset County, which she noted has a hostel and has had great success under the Trail Town program.

“Trail Town is the name of the game there,” she said.

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