Yough River Trail Council to honor longtime supporter of bike trail
The late Chris Wagner will be remembered for many things that she did for her hometown of Connellsville, including playing an important role in bringing the bike trail through the town.
On Sunday, the Yough River Trail Council will honor her memory when it dedicates a pavilion to her during the 19th annual Fall Foliage Ride/Walk/Run.
Wagner, a former Connellsville City Council member and former executive director of the Greater Connellsville Chamber of Commerce, passed away this year following a long illness. She was also a member of the Yough River Trail Council and the Regional Trail Corp.
Ted Kovall, president of the Yough River Trail Council, said the council hopes Sunday's pavilion dedication will honor Wagner's contribution to the city and the work she did with the trails.
Kovall met Wagner in the early 1990s, he said, when she was wrapped up in getting Yough River Park and the Third Street section of the trail developed.
He said it was Wagner who got the Fall Foliage Ride started along with various other fundraisers.
She was also instrumental in the Yough Park dedication and persuaded the necessary people to complete the Third Street project, Koval said.
Wagner also got planters placed along Third Street and recruited organizations to maintain them.
“She was a very hard worker and had a lot of friends. When she became a member of City Council, she never forgot the trail,” said Kovall.
“Chris worked very hard and tirelessly to see the trail and park become important to our city. She dedicated herself to seeing the trail move forward. Now all these years later, people from all over visit our community because of the trail. It would make her very happy to see how much it is used today,” said Bill Fiesta, longtime friend.
“Chris was truly one of the pioneers in the creating of the Great Allegheny Passage,” Ralph Wombacker, former executive director of the Connellsville Redevelopment Authority and a YRTC member.
Wombacker recalled how Wagner planned the official grand opening of the first leg of the trail, Connellsville to Ohiopyle, approximately 19 miles.
As a member of the Regional Trail Corp., the parent organization of the YRTC, Wagner assisted in the development of the trail from Connellsville to McKeesport, approximately 43 miles.
“For two decades Chris held the steadfast vision of the trail's economic impact to the region. She remained focused and unwavering to her commitment of the development of the GAP,” said Wombacker.
“Chris Wagner was a very special person to the city of Connellsville. We loved having her participate in everything we did on the bike trail. Chris was incredibly organized and had a way of accomplishing so much and always with a smile,” said Jim Schilling, a longtime friend, former chamber director and former YRTC president.
Schilling said Wagner's dedication was a reflection of how she felt about the bike trail project and what it could mean to Connellsville.
“We had an incredible team, and Chris was the glue that held us together. Chris was a great person to work with, and she dedicated her time to making Connellsville a better place for all of us,” said Schilling.
Robin Bubarth, longtime friend and member of the chamber, said Wagner was determined to get the bike trail and Yough Park developed.
“She had the vision back then that we now see today. Not only do area residents use the trail and the park year-round, but bikers from everywhere, even other countries, are traveling on the trail, enjoying the trail in the very way she knew could happen,” said Bubarth.
Wagner's husband, Fayette County President Judge John Wagner, said his wife was in charge of the Parks and Recreation Department while she served on City Council.
“I think that generally she loved the parks because going back to when she was a child, Connellsville had a very active summer recreation program, and she had fond memories of participating. She talked about the fun of running track to playing board games and other activities at the playgrounds during those days, so her interest in seeing city parks maintained and upgraded went back to her childhood,” he said. “It was just natural for her to carry her interest in the parks all through her adult and professional life. She poured her heart and soul into the trail and the parks. She saw them as a way that Connellsville could lift itself up.”
“Chrissy had a passion for helping to make the community a better place to live, learn and enjoy. My time working alongside her on city council was rewarding. I believe we worked well together because we said what we believed and we made it a priority to get things done — sometimes popular, sometimes not, but always in the best interest of the city. She was an excellent colleague,” said Bruce Jaynes, a former City Council member.
Chamber member Larry Kiefer remembers the day of the trail dedication in July 1995. In fact, he still has a commemorative glass that Wagner worked with Anchor Glass to make.
“She worked so hard planning that day. She wanted children to be the first on the trail riding their bikes because they were the future of the trail. And they were the first on the trail, and then the rest of us had a fabulous time riding it, too. The date on the glass is July 1, 1995. It was a great day,” said Kiefer.
Kovall said he is personally grateful to Wagner for laying a lot of the groundwork that has made it easier for him as the Yough River Trail president now.
The pavilion dedication will be held at 3:45 p.m., followed by the Fall Foliage Ride and luncheon.
Wagner's family and friends will attend the dedication.
Organizes said Dave Tremba, who originated the trail concept, is expected to attend.
“Dave pushed like crazy to get the money and to get the work done to originate the trail. We are hoping that some of the elected officials who have supported the trail and had been instrumental in getting money for developing the trail over these years will be there also,” said Kovall.
The Wall Of Honor will also be dedicated Sunday. Gary Stout, owner of Bikes Unlimited on the bike trail and West Crawford Avenue, wanted to find a way to honor those who have been important to the bike trail.
“YRTC has established a Wall of Honor on the back of the stone monument in front of the Blue Building. On the front is a plaque showing a map of the trail, and on the back of that stone we had five names etched by Davis Monuments. They are names of the people who have done great things for YRTC: Dave Tremba, Chris Wagner, Frank Decker, June Newill and Ron Rittenberger. The idea came from Gary Stout at Bikes Unlimited, and we took the idea and ran with it. Gary had mentioned Dave Tremba's name and Ron Rittenberger, also Frank Decker. Ron and Frank worked tirelessly on trail maintenance for years, like Jim Haun and Clyde Martz do today. Frank and Ron did all the grass cutting and tree trimming and taking care of equipment and getting things built for years. I often say these volunteers are often the finest people that you never see,” said Kovall.
Stout said he wanted to acknowledge those who got the trail started.
“It is important that we remember those early trailblazers. In the beginning, these were the people who were working together to get things going. Basically there would not be a trail today without them and the time they gave. Nearly 30 years ago, Dave Tremba was pushing for this trail. The people on the Wall of Honor contributed an awful lot back then. There is room for more names in the future, too,” said Stout.
Nancy Henry is a contributing writer.