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Dog sledding, beaver habitats draws for visitors to Armstrong County trails

| Saturday, Dec. 26, 2015, 12:01 a.m.
Louis B. Ruediger | Trib Total Media
ARTA President Kay Owen is pictured with one of the trees recently worked over by beavers along the Armstrong Rails to Trails in Madison, Tuesday Dec 22, 2015.

There have always been plenty of reasons for local folks and out-of-towners to visit the Armstrong Trail.

But now, with an uptick in wildlife activity — and an offering of dog-sled rides — visitors have more of a reason to hit the trail.

“It's an opportunity for people to get out and do something instead of being holed up at home,” said Kay Owen, president of the Armstrong Rails-to-Trails Association.

“Get your tail on the trail,” she said, with a laugh. “The trail is open 365 days a year; it's a safe place for people, and there's always something to see in the natural world.”

ARTA supports and helps maintain about 30 miles of trail stretching from Rosston to East Brady.

The volunteer organization recently gave permission allowing Allen Dunn of Rayburn to give dog-sled rides along the trail.

Dunn, owner of Pine Creek Huskies, has 11 Alaskan and Siberian huskies that pull a wheeled cart or sled, depending on the weather conditions. Rides are by appointment only.

“I can give rides anywhere on the trail system from now until the end of March,” he said. “It's on a first-come, first-serve basis. As long as it's 50 degrees or lower, I can run the dogs.”

The wide crushed limestone paths accommodate the sled and the cart. Those paths make it easy for people of all ages to stay seasonally active outdoors whether it's by bicycle, by foot or on skis.

Many rural and wooded portions of the trail create an ideal habitat for native plants, animals and birds, including eagles.

Recently, trail users have noticed a lot of evidence of beavers at work in the Madison Township area.

On Tuesday, as rain dripped from bare branches and rushing water tumbled over rocks down a hillside, Owen stood near a section of trail between Rimer and Hook Station. Mist drifted through the valley and spilled over the Allegheny River.

Owen stooped to examine the trunk of a young birch tree that had been gnawed to a teetering point by the furry river-dwelling critters. More than a dozen chewed-up birch branches lay on the mossy ground near the river bank. The beaver dens were well-concealed and tucked out of sight far below the tree line near the water's edge.

“We don't consider them a nuisance,” Owen said. “They are a part of the natural world, and there's no fear of them damming up the Allegheny.”

Ron Steffey agreed.

He's the director of the Allegheny Valley Land Trust, which owns the trail.

“We're the ones coming into their domain,” he said.

He joked that he trained the beavers to notch the trees so the trunks would fall toward the river rather than across the trail path.

And he noted that because the beavers had thinned out the birch, young oaks growing in the area will have more of a chance to gain a foothold.

Future plans

Owen said that the Armstrong Trail will eventually become part of the Erie to Pittsburgh Trail.

And there are plans to connect Armstrong with the Industrial Heartland Trails Coalition. That's a regional trail project that will one day connect Pennsylvania, Maryland, Ohio, West Virginia and New York across 1,600 miles.

“ARTA will be a part of that,” Owen said.

She said she hopes to see the development of amenities along the trail, including restaurants, canoe and kayak rentals, bicycle stores and bed & breakfast lodgings.

“There is so much potential and so much possibility,” she said.

Brigid Beatty is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-543-1303 or bbeatty@tribweb.com.

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