Rimer residents given keys to open trails to vehicles in emergency

| Tuesday, April 22, 2014, 12:46 a.m.

Fourteen Rimer families in May will be given keys to gates blocking motor vehicle access to a flood-prone portion of Armstrong Rails-to-Trails where they live.

The gates are there to discourage people from driving on the trails, but they could prevent emergency crews from accessing the 1.5-mile stretch from Scenic Drive to Route 1004. That's what happened in February when floods overtook Rimerton Road and concrete barriers were in place on the trail where the gates are.

“We've been working on finding a solution, but at the same time, we need to have gates in place to protect our assets,” said Ron Steffey, executive director of the Allegheny Land Trust that manages the trail. “It's not emergency vehicles we're worried about damaging those trails; it's everybody else.”

Giving keys to property owners to open the gates in an emergency was the solution Steffey announced on Monday at a meeting of Land Trust officials and Armstrong County Commissioners.

The concrete barriers that used to block the trails have been removed, leaving the gates as the only thing impeding motor vehicle traffic. The barriers were removed as a result of the February floods when Rimer residents like John Drayer had to use backhoes to push the concrete blocks off the trail.

“The river floods or freezes every year, and some older residents depend on that trail for access whenever it happens, but there was just no way through with those barriers,” Drayer said.

Drayer and a few of his neighbors suggested that all barriers be removed from the trail. But Steffey said vehicle traffic almost immediately became a problem when the concrete barriers were removed before the locked gates were installed earlier this year.

“It was a real battle for us, since we knew it was needed to be accessible to keep people safe,” Steffey said. “But it became a tourist attraction and people kept driving the trail to look at the ice.”

Another concern for the trust when considering vehicles on the trail are two 10-foot-wide bridges — one over Poseytown Road and another near Scenic Road — since they are wooden and may not be able to handle a lot of vehicle traffic, Steffey said.

The trust expects to work with the Armstrong County Department of Planning and Development to come up with plans to strengthen both bridges, he added.

County Commissioners Chairman Dave Battaglia said officials will gladly work with the trust to help with bridges, as long as the residents are guaranteed emergency vehicle access along the trail.

“We need to be sure there is no way emergency access is blocked,” he said. “That's the most important thing.”

Brad Pedersen is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-543-1303, ext. 1337, or bpedersen@tribweb.com.

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