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Connellsville urged to take greater advantage of trail's charms

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By Judy Kroeger
Thursday, April 15, 2010

Connellsville City Council received an overview of how the city can position itself to take advantage of its place on the Great Allegheny Passage, not only to improve the city but to take advantage of tourism — the state's second most lucrative industry after agriculture.

"It's about heritage, history, preservation and conservation, understanding and valuing your roots," said Donna Holdorf, executive director of The Historic National Road and interim director of the Laurel Highlands Visitors Bureau. "The Laurel Highlands Visitors Bureau works to promote the region outside of this area. We're focusing our summer campaign on the Laurel Highlands as a place of wonder. The Laurel Highlands and Connellsville are not just a day trip."

Brad Clemenson, with the Pennsylvania Environmental Council, Cathy McCollom with the Trail Towns Program, and Michael Edwards, executive director of the Connellsville Redevelopment Authority, discussed potential strategies as well as ongoing efforts to make the city more attractive to residents and trail users.

"If people recognize the value of natural resources and communities, they will sustain the communities and take care of the resources," Clemenson said. He added that Connellsville sits in the midst of much natural beauty with the Laurel Ridge to the west, bordered by the Yough Gorge and the Connemaugh Gap. The Youghiogheny River runs through the city, and the Great Allegheny Passage was built along railroad lines that transported coal and coke from Connellsville to Pittsburgh and beyond. He said the area offers outdoor recreation possibilities that will serve as a catalyst for broader economic development.

Connellsville's industrial heritage also will enhance its tourism potential.

"People are attracted to a place with character," Clemenson said. "At one time, there were more millionaires in Connellsville than anyplace. Preserve that character, and it will be a market economic driver."

The Community Foundation of Fayette County provided a grant to study roll-on, roll-off service at the Amtrak station, which would allow riders to bring their bicycles with them. Clemenson said the train ride from Pittsburgh or Washington, D.C., is short, and cyclists would be interested in Connellsville. A platform would be needed, as would bike racks and a nicer train station.

"Amtrak, a summer out from now, is considering roll-on, roll-off service," Clemenson said, challenging council to beautify the station area and connect it with downtown through plantings and other enhancements. "It will bring much traffic to Connellsville."

McCollom said the Great Allegheny Passage took off in 2006, when it connected in Cumberland, Md., with the C&O Towpath, resulting in a 465 percent increase in users. "We talked to business owners," she said. "They reported $40 million in six trail towns (of which Connellsville is one), with 44 new businesses. Connellsville, keep on working, keep on demanding."

One way of unifying the six trail towns, from West Newton to Meyersdale, will take place, thanks to the Trail Town Outreach Corps, a group of volunteer college students. Sarah Gamble said she and others have been working with businesses to encourage sustainable approaches. Businesses are working on an ice cream soda project, she added. "Each town will have its own ice cream soda that reflects its heritage," Gamble said.

Edwards announced that the Multi-Municipal Comprehensive Plan developed with Connellsville, South Connellsville and Connellsville Township will make grant money available, as well as provide a blueprint for future development. The plan includes a vision, economic assessment and development strategy, housing profile and plan, plans for historic and cultural resources, natural resources plan and more.

Mullin & Lonergan Associates, Pittsburgh, which developed the plan, will present it from 6 to 8 p.m. April 28 at the Porter Theatre in the Connellsville Community Center.

Edwards said improvements have been continuing in Yough River Park, with the first phase complete, except for water fountains to be installed. The state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources provided $204,000 for the second phase, which will include new playgrounds, riverbank stabilization, consistent curbing and beautification.

A formal check presentation will take place at 1:30 p.m. May 4 at Cream of the Trail in the park.



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