Ohiopyle State Park blazed trail for Great Allegheny Passage

| Saturday, June 15, 2013, 1:46 a.m.

EDITOR'S NOTE: The Daily Courier is featuring a series of articles throughout the summer, detailing the history of the trails and how the trail through Connellsville came about. Today, Ohiopyle State Park, 30 years ago a tranquil state park, now a tourism mecca bustling with not only sightseers and whitewater rafters but thousands of bikers and hikers — thanks to the Great Allegheny Passage.

No town along the 150 miles of the Great Allegheny Passage has benefited from the trail more than Ohiopyle.

The tiny borough, which is located within Ohiopyle State Park, has been transformed from a sleepy mountain village into a beehive buzzing with recreationists of all kinds.

Before the bike trail, Ohiopyle had a sizeable sprinkling of visitors during summer and the fall foliage season, a mix of nature enthusiasts, whitewater rafters and kayakers.

Ohiopyle: Longer season

The trail has broadened that scope, according to Park Superintendent Jim Juran, who said the path attracts visitors year-round. The number of hikers and bikers is largest from early April until the autumn trees shed their leaves in November.

“The trail has really broadened our season,” Juran noted.

Of the 800,000 people who used the GAP in 2012, about 40 percent — 320,000 — followed the trail through Ohiopyle, he added. Couple that amount with those who visited the park to view its scenic waterfalls, whitewater enthusiasts and campers, and it adds up to some serious tourism traffic — which means opportunities for local business growth.

The borough / state park's metamorphosis is extra special because Ohiopyle's bike trail between the park and Confluence was the first section of the GAP. Started around 1983, the nine-mile path opened in 1986.

Larry Adams' vision; Doug Hoehn, too

“The Ohiopyle-to-Confluence trail came from the vision of Larry Adams,” Juran said. Adams was park superintendent for most of the 1980s. When Adams took a job at another state park in 1989, his successor was Doug Hoehn, who worked with Dave Tremba of Connellsville to extend the trail from Ohiopyle to Connellsville's Yough River Park.

Those two early sections of trail — totaling 27 miles — were the catalyst that spurred further development of the GAP. As of June 15, the GAP is an unbroken network of trails that begins at Point State Park in downtown Pittsburgh and ends at Cumberland, Md. At Cumberland, hikers and bikers can enter the C&O Canal Towpath Heritage Trail, a 185-path to Washington.

The bike trail has changed Ohiopyle State Park from a seasonal facility into a destination park, according to Juran.

Juran noted that park officials work closely with Ohiopyle Borough Council to maximize the trail's potential.

Recent projects include a bike lane along borough streets.

“People can now safely travel from the Connellsville/Ohiopyle section through the borough and enter the southern section that runs from the park to Confluence, which is located on the Somerset County line,” he noted.

Constant maintenance

Juran said resurfacing the trail costs $5,000 per mile. The smooth surface is made from a 4-inch-thick coat of crushed limestone.

Ohiopyle receives some state money for maintenance, but Juran said the park appreciates the efforts of Yough River Trail Council — especially its president, Ted Kovall of Connellsville, who works hard to raise cash to assist with trail upkeep. “Every year the Yough River Trail Council manages to come through with $10,000 to $15,000,” Juran said.

YRTC maintains 23 miles of trail, from Bruner Run to Layton. Maintenance from Layton to McKeesport is handled by Regional Trail Corporation, a nonprofit in West Newton.

Four miles of the Connellsville/Ohiopyle trail were resurfaced in 2012.

When Ohiopyle's seasonal workers are hired each spring, Juran has a trail repair list ready and waiting. In summer and fall, mowing is a constant job that requires several tractors.

This year, Juran and his crew, assisted by YRTC volunteers, plan to replace deteriorated split rail fencing, resurface more miles and install gabion baskets, metal mesh containers filled with gravel, to stabilize embankments.

“We're always on the trail, especially after storms,” Juran said.

Hikers and bikers visiting Ohiopyle will benefit from improved signage and an information kiosk in the visitors center.

Ohiopyle thriving

“We now have a bakery and there's a new pizza shop opening this season,” Juran said. “Overall, there has been significant progress in Ohiopyle — as well as in Confluence — since the trail opened in 1986.”

He believes the park's trails are so popular because they aren't difficult to ride. The scenery along the Youghiogheny River likely factored in the Great Allegheny Passage being named one of National Geographic's “Top 10 Destinations in the World” in 2012.

Laura Szepesi is a freelance writer.

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