Great Allegheny Passage's point will be made at Saturday gala

| Thursday, June 13, 2013, 7:33 p.m.

EDITOR'S NOTE: A ceremony on Saturday in Pittsburgh will officially open the Great Allegheny Passage — a recreational trail that meanders from Pittsburgh to Cumberland, Md. It's been more than 30 years since the idea to develop bike/hike trails took off. The Daily Courier will feature a series of articles that will be published throughout the summer detailing the history of the trails and how the trail through Connellsville came about. Today, local bikers and hikers are welcome to join the June 15 celebration in Pittsburgh that will mark the grand opening of the 150-mile Great Allegheny Passage.

“Point Made!” — a perfect title for the celebration planned for Point State Park in Pittsburgh that will commemorate completion of the Great Allegheny Passage.

“The name says it all,” noted Linda McKenna-Boxx, president of the Allegheny Trail Alliance, the organization that oversees the 150-mile bike trail.

Contractors finished the final mile of trail near Sandcastle Waterpark in West Homestead in late May. On Saturday, a ribbon-cutting ceremony there will officially open the Great Allegheny Passage — thereby linking Pittsburgh with Cumberland, Maryland.

Celebrating 25 years

The event caps 30 years of trail construction — a multimillion dollar project that was inspired by a nine-mile trail that opened in 1986 between Ohiopyle State Park and Confluence. Year-after-year since, the trail has inched its way northward to the Steel City and southward to Cumberland. At Cumberland, recreationists can continue south another 185 miles to Washington, D.C., along the towpath in the C&O Canal National Historical Park.

“We're hoping for a great turnout on June 15,” said Boxx, who has been involved with the trail's development for two decades.

The festivities will begin in the morning at Sandcastle. Participants are invited to bring their bicycles and ride as a group to Point State Park in downtown Pittsburgh, which has been designated as the Great Allegheny Passage's western terminus.

Similar to the golden spike that grandly linked the nation's first transcontinental railroad in 1869, a round bronze plaque embedded in granite marks the trail's western terminus. From Point State Park, the mileposts count downward. “Cumberland is mile zero,” Boxx explained.

Many groups credited

She stressed that the Great Allegheny Passage could not have been completed without the efforts of many trail organizations along its 150 miles.

The pioneer of those trail groups was Ohiopyle State Park, which oversees the trail between Connellsville and Confluence to the Somerset County Line. Regional Trail Corporation, based in West Newton, oversees the path between Connellsville and McKeesport.

The Connellsville-based Yough River Trail Council maintains 23 miles of the Great Allegheny Passage between Layton and Bruner Run (just south of Ohiopyle State Park).

Somerset County Rails-to-Trails Association operates the trail south to the Mason-Dixon Line, and Mountain Maryland Trails oversees the path to Cumberland, where it links with the C&O Canal Towpath Heritage Trail to Washington, D.C.

Steel Valley Trail Council and Friends of the Riverfront developed and maintain the trail from McKeesport to Point State Park.

All seven of those trail groups are represented in the Allegheny Trail Alliance, explained Boxx, who heads the Alliance. Her “day job” is administering the Katherine Mabis McKenna Foundation, which has provided funding for projects along the Great Allegheny Passage.

Three Rivers Arts Festival

Saturday's grand opening will be held in conjunction with the Three Rivers Arts Festival.

“There will be lots of fun things to do at Point State Park that day,” Boxx promised. “Plenty of music and great food, beautiful exhibits, and there's even a Pirates baseball game.”

The Allegheny Trail Alliance encourages all Southwestern Pennsylvania residents to attend. “Come to the waterfront at Sandcastle on June 15, and be part of the celebration,” Boxx urged.

A ribbon cutting will be held at 10 a.m. that day at Sandcastle, followed by an 11 a.m. six-mile bike ride to Point State Park where, at 1 p.m., there will be a ceremony to unveil the GAP marker at the Point. Visit for more information.

Laura Szepesi is a freelance writer.

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