Plenty of activity at Butler-Freeport trail
Even during the middle of the week, the Butler-Freeport Community Trail can be a busy place.
Shortly after 5 p.m., cars with bikes suspended on racks attached to rear bumpers file into trailhead parking lots. Walkers gather water bottles and take off on a stroll. Parents corral small children to point out a family of ducks nesting on the far shoreline of Buffalo Creek.
For cyclists, the crushed limestone rail trail provides the opportunity to pedal traffic-free and hill-free for up to 20 miles one way. Beginning at the Freeport trailhead means a gentle but sometimes noticeable grade heading north toward Butler. The flip side of that is a fast trip back to the car.
This portion of the trail close to Freeport takes users through the Buffalo Creek Gorge, a scenic section with lush foliage that winds alongside Buffalo Creek on the right before passing under the Route 28 expressway bridge. From there the trail crosses Little Buffalo Creek several times, each an opportunity to stop and take in the view of water cascading over rocks and rolling out of sight into the woods.
Opened as the Western Pennsylvania Railroad's Butler Branch in 1871, the trail still holds remains of the industry once located along the railroad in the form of building foundations, brick kilns and dams. Between seven and 10 miles into the ride are the remnants of the Franklin Glass Sand Plant, the Little Buffalo Creek Sand Plant, including two dams in the creek, and the Lumpus Coal Company. Service on the rail line ended in 1987, the first section of the multi-use trail opened in 1992 and in May 2011 four of the remaining 4.6 miles were completed.
The scenery changes often as the trail twists through the gorge, which is designated a Very Important Bird Area by the Audubon Society. Red, white and purple wildflowers dot the adjacent woods, and water trickling down crumbling rock along the sides of the trail often provides a blast of cool air when passing by.
As the trail continues, it passes through farmland and pastures nearing the opposite trailhead in Butler. There are a number of trailheads and parking areas in between, making the trail highly accessible and easily broken down into sections for anyone wanting something shy of a 40-mile trip. Maps and directions to any of the trailheads are available at butlerfreeporttrail.org, as well as information on geocaching and other trail activities.