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South Side sees gold in trail plan

| Saturday, Feb. 2, 2013, 9:23 p.m.
This trail totem near the Pump House in Munhall is the closest the Greater Allegheny Passage trailhead gets to Pittsburgh Friday February 1, 2013. James Knox | Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

South Side supporters hope to ride the completion of the Great Allegheny Passage to economic benefit.

A budding project, called Trail Town South Side Pittsburgh, would capitalize on the summer opening of the last segment of the trail, between Homestead and Point State Park, Downtown.

“We're going to get an influx of travelers,” said Kim Collins, owner of Blue Tomato design firm and president of the South Side Chamber of Commerce. “There is no reason that if you are visiting here that you cannot experience everything that the South Side has to offer.”

The 141-mile Great Allegheny Passage, used for bicycling and walking, follows former rail lines between Pittsburgh and Cumberland, Md. The final link will run from Homestead along the Monongahela River to the South Side, where it will cross the Hot Metal Bridge and continue to Downtown.

The trail connects to the C&O Canal Towpath in Maryland and continues to Washington, D.C.

In January, Trail Town South Side Pittsburgh started a Facebook page to explain the project and solicit interested parties to discuss its possibilities.

“We want the South Side to be a launching point to explore Pittsburgh,” said Jonathan Growall, a chamber board member who is coordinating Trail Town South Side.

People take more than 800,000 trips on the Great Allegheny Passage each year, according to a study by the Greensburg-based Progress Fund, which oversees the Trail Town program promoting communities and businesses along the Great Allegheny Passage.

The trail in 2008 generated more than $40 million in direct spending and $7.5 million in wages, the study found. The typical traveler is older than 35 and spends more than $100 per day on food, shelter and other services.

Most destinations along the trail are rural, small towns such as Confluence in Somerset County and Ohiopyle in Fayette County.

Pittsburgh offers a different experience.

“Nobody has the urban-plus nature that we have going on here,” said Growall, manager of Blue Dog Homes real estate company in the South Side. “I think they'll be blown away by it. It's a world-class experience, through and through.”

Pittsburgh in 2010 earned a “bike-friendly” status from the League of American Bicyclists. Efforts in recent years have added miles of bike lanes and shared-lane markings, hundreds of bike racks and ever-expanding bike trails, including the Three Rivers Heritage Trail that runs along the city's riverfronts.

Trail Town South Side, which Growall said is working with Bike Pittsburgh and Friends of the Riverfront, plans to promote the South Side from the Great Allegheny Passage at SouthSide Works and along the Heritage Trail stretching to Station Square.

A welcome center at 11th and East Carson streets as well as a string of kiosks along the Heritage Trail would promote the South Side's shops, restaurants and lodging as well as provide useful information for cyclists.

“Having that connection and having them as a gateway to the city will be great in making that connection between the trail and community,” said Will Prince, a Progress Fund program coordinator.

Bicyclists already come to Over The Bar Bicycle Cafe on East Carson Street to launch tours to Washington or when completing trips from the nation's capital, said manager Marty Maloney. The cafe is home to one of the city's first bike corrals, which can hold eight bikes in the space of one parking spot.

“The cycling culture here is growing all the time,” he said. “I think this will definitely increase that.”

Jason Cato is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7936 or jcato@tribweb.com.

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