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Kiski-Conemaugh gains national trail designation

| Friday, June 13, 2014, 12:15 p.m.
Jeff Himler | The Dispatch
The Kiski-Conemaugh Water Trail recently was designated as a National Recreational Trail. Gathering along the Conemaugh River in Blairsville June 5 to celebrate the national recognition were (from left) Blairsville councilman Ab Dettore; Blairsville Borough manager Tim Evans; Blairsville Community Development Authority board member Carol Persichetti; borough councilman Paul Fodor; Jane Sheffield, executive director of the Allegheny Ridge Corporation; Indiana County Commissioner Mike Baker; Ron Nocco, assistant to Congressman Bill Shuster; BCDA board member Linda Gwinn; and Peggy Pings of the National Parks Service's Rivers, Trails and Conservation Assistance Program.
Jeff Himler | The Dispatch
Taking part in the 15th anniversary Stony-Kiski-Conemaugh Rivers Sojourn, Clark Fisher of Somerset (left), who helped organize and participated in the event, arrives by canoe in Saltsburg — with daughter Emily, 5, and pet Maize — during the third day of the four-day sojourn. The Saltsburg stopover coincided with the second day of that town's 33rd annual Canal Days Festival.

A new national designation has helped raise the profile of the region's Kiski-Conemaugh River Trail and could also give a boost to communities like Blairsville and Saltsburg that are located along the trail.

Federal and local officials gathered in Blairsville June 5 to announce that the 86-mile Kiski-Conemaugh Water Trail has been designated as a National Recreation Trail by the U.S. Department of the Interior and the National Park Service.

To mark the occasion, Peggy Pings, representing the National Parks Service's Rivers, Trails and Conservation Assistance Program, presented a certificate to Jane Sheffield, executive director of the Altoona-based Allegheny Ridge Corporation. The latter organization has worked to promote the Kiski-Conemaugh River Trail as part of the 320-mile Pittsburgh-to-Harrisburg Main Line Canal Greenway.

“This is a great designation for your community,” Pings told officials from Blairsville. She noted the Kiski-Conemaugh corridor will join a national trail system, first authorized in 1968, that includes about 1,200 other routes covering more than 15,000 miles among all 50 states.

The presentation took place as participants in the 15th annual Stony-Kiski-Conemaugh Sojourn arrived in Blairsville towing canoes and kayaks to camp along the Conemaugh River before the second day of the four-day event.

The Kiski-Conemaugh Water Trail begins on the Conemaugh River in Johnstown and enters the Kiskiminetas River at Saltsburg before ending at Freeport, where the Kiski River drains into the Allegheny River. It includes scenic gaps through the Laurel and Chestnut ridges and historic traces of the Pennsylvania Railroad and the 19th-century Main Line Canal.

In the past, the Kiski-Conemaugh has been honored as Pennsylvania's River of the Year. Laura Hawkins, greenway coordinator for the Allegheny Ridge Corporation, expressed hope that the new national trail designation will prompt more local residents as well as visitors to explore recreational opportunities on the local rivers.

“We know that there aren't nearly enough local folks taking advantage of the river,” Hawkins said. “If the Department of the Interior thinks enough of this river to designate it as a National Recreation Trail, which is a really significant opportunity for us, hopefully the rest of us will think so.

“What this designation does is it puts us on the national map. We're now in a database with other water trails from across the country. All of the information about the towns along the trail, the history of this corridor, is available through a national database at the National Park Service for people who are ... seeking outdoor recreational opportunities and multi-day river trips.”

Through the sojourn, participants can sign up for any or all three days of traveling downstream on the Conemaugh and Kiskiminetas rivers with a whitewater trip offered on the fourth day.

Hawkins noted the sojourn had become so popular at one point that it had almost become unmanageable, prompting organizers to ease up on promoting the event.

Participation has since dropped — to 70 some total, averaging about 50 per day, this year, she said: “We'd like to get it a little bit higher, maybe into the 70s for the daily number.”

Hawkins said the National Recreation Trail designation also should provide an advantage to local communities or organizations that may seek federal funding for trail improvements or related amenities along the rivers.

Recent efforts to promote use of the Kiski-Conemaugh Water Trail have included updating a trail map and guide and developing a smartphone application that allows trail users to check out historic views of sites along the trail.

More about the Kiski-Conemaugh Water Trail can be found at www.mainlinecanalgreenway.org/water_trails_kiski.shtml.

Jeff Himler is an editor for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-459-6100, ext. 2910 or jhimler@tribweb.com.

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