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Bicycle enthusiasts pumped about Greenway Sojourn

| Saturday, Dec. 28, 2013, 5:54 p.m.

The Rails-to-Trails Conservancy's Greenway Sojourn will be going along the Youghiogheny River through Westmoreland and Fayette counties in June 2014, the third consecutive year that the long-distance bike trek will pass through region on the Great Allegheny Passage.

The Greenway Sojourn will break new ground by traversing parts of three states — West Virginia, Pennsylvania and Maryland — on a trip that will begin June 22 at the Panhandle Trail in Weirton, W.Va., and conclude 225 miles later on June 27 in Cumberland, Md., said Thomas Sexton, director of the recreational conservancy's Northeast regional office in Camp Hill.

Riders will travel the Panhandle Trail in Weirton, connect with the newly expanded Montour Trail at Carnegie and then link up with the Great Allegheny Passage at McKeesport. The bikers will go through West Newton, Cedar Creek Park in Rostraver, Dawson, Connellsville, Confluence and on to Cumberland.

The sojourn is designed to allow participants the opportunity to stop and explore the communities and attractions along the way. Riders can travel at their own pace, and there are frequent opportunities to stop, rest and enjoy the surroundings, the conservancy said.

The conservancy has estimated the costs at $700, depending on final arrangements involving meals and camping sites. Registration will open in January, and participation will be limited to 300 riders.

The sojourn is popular enough that it attracted 292 riders for the June 2013 event, which was a boost to trail town businesses, according to statistics from the conservancy.

The Rails-to-Trails conservancy estimated there was $117,000 in positive economic impact to communities along the 150-mile sojourn route from Pittsburgh to Cumberland. The average rider spent $700 on the trip, including $224 in Pennsylvania on bike supplies, clothing, sleeping bags and other camping equipment for the trip, the conservancy said. Riders spent an average of $29 a day for water, snacks and sandwiches and $47 per person on main meals. The riders also spent an average of $132 on accommodations in Pennsylvania.

The state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources is behind the event. It gave the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy with $85,000 to produce the 2014 bicycle trek. It recently announced that the conservancy will get another $85,000 to organize the sojourn in 2015 along a route that has not yet been determined, Sexton said. In 2012, the state gave the conservancy a $115,000 grant to help pay for the 2013 Greenway Sojourn in June.

The 2015 grant, which was funneled through the Environmental Stewardship Fund, was part of a $38 million pool of Community Conservation Partnership Program grants that went to 201 conservation and recreation projects, including 36 trail projects.

Sexton praised the state's financial support of for the rails-to-trails projects, saying Pennsylvania has pumped about $2 million into those biking and hiking trails over many years.

“This is very, very unusual for state-generated money” to be used for rails-to-trails projects, Sexton said. “Pennsylvania is far in advance of any other state in their trails support.”

The conservancy plans to allocate about $15,000 of its 2015 grant to complete a statewide comprehensive trail user survey, Sexton said.

About $30,000 to $40,000 of the grant will be used to coordinate a mini trail-town assistance program that will offer grants ranging from $5,000 to $10,000 for small trail projects, Sexton said. That money typically goes to nonprofit organizations involved in developing municipal trails and county trails, Sexton said.

Joe Napsha is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at jnapsha@tribweb.com or 724-836-5252.