Butler-Freeport trail about to stretch a little farther

| Sunday, April 14, 2013, 12:07 a.m.

Darlene Kaskie stood along the edge of the Father Marinaro Park in Butler Tuesday, looking at the first signs of construction of a bridge over Coal Run that should complete the 21-mile trail this summer from Freeport to the city.

“I'm looking forward to this,” Kaskie, 62, of Butler, said, as her 8-year-old black lab, Gracie, tugged at her leash. “It'll be great to get out into the woods and walk.”

The trail was nearly 20 years in the making, and trail officials said they hope the bridge will bring walkers and bicyclists into Butler. The trail, which winds through southeastern Butler County, stops near Herman Road in Butler Township. The bridge will extend the trail about three-quarters of a mile into the Butler park.

“What do people do when they're riding along? They want to find somewhere to eat,” said Chris Ziegler, president of the Butler-Freeport Community Trail Board of Directors. “This gives them a safe way to find those places.”

The bridge and adjacent parking should be ready sometime this summer, Ziegler said. The cost, just under $200,000, will be paid through a grant from the state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources and matching money and in-kind services from Buffalo.

Buffalo owns the trail, which also passes through Freeport and Winfield, Jefferson, Summit and Butler townships.

Estimates are that more than 360,000 people use the trail each year, though Ziegler said that number may be low. She hopes for a better count this summer.

“For many, it's social time,” Ziegler said. “There are lot of retired folks who meet other folks on the trail. They have the same interests and it just clicks.”

The trail beckons bicyclists, walkers and events including an annual fundraising marathon. In October 2012, the 13.1-mile marathon attracted 1,000 runners and raised about $30,000 for the trail, which is used for upkeep and other costs related to the trail.

The trail also passes along sites of Butler County's industrial past. Glimpses include the Franklin Glass site near Kaufman Drive in Butler, to the remnants of a dam near Sarver that belonged to a Ford plant, and a carbon black plant at Cabot.

“There's a vast history of this trail and what used to be there,” Ziegler said. She said that the group eventually hopes to work on signage marking the historic aspects of the trail.

“Our main focus now is getting the trail done,” Ziegler said. “Once that's done, we're going to pepper it (with signs).”

Amy Camp, a private consultant who helped evaluate the trail for McCollom Development Strategies, said that some of the recommendations for the trail include developing a bike loop in town and improving signage to direct people to the trail.”

“It's a beautiful, scenic trail,” Camp said. “In Butler, they're looking for ways to revitalize the town and building that trail connection. We're looking at how communities can connect to their trails.”

In 2010, Ziegler said, an economic study showed that bicyclists who used the trail brought about $12,000 to the city's economy.

“You are getting traffic that you wouldn't if people weren't on the trail,” Ziegler said.

The first end-to-end ride of the season will begin Saturday at 8:30 a.m. at the Laneville Trailhead off Main Street in Freeport and ride into Butler, where participants will have lunch at Element Cafe in the city. The event is expected to end around 2:30 p.m.

For additional information, go to butlerfreeporttrail.org.

Bill Vidonic is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-380-5621 or bvidonic@tribweb.com.

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