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$200K grant to connect area's hiking trails

| Tuesday, Oct. 28, 2014, 1:26 a.m.
With a sign warning of dangerous footing along the hilldside, Jeff Watson of West Deer walks along the Rachel Carson Trail near the overlook in Harrison Hills Park on Monday, Oct. 27, 2014. Thanks to a state grant, the trail will be extended to connect with the Butler-Freeport Community Trail.
Eric Felack | Trib Total Media
With a sign warning of dangerous footing along the hilldside, Jeff Watson of West Deer walks along the Rachel Carson Trail near the overlook in Harrison Hills Park on Monday, Oct. 27, 2014. Thanks to a state grant, the trail will be extended to connect with the Butler-Freeport Community Trail.

From the bluffs above the Allegheny River in Harrison, Rachel Carson Trail hikers can practically see their counterparts on nearby recreational trails in Armstrong, Butler and Westmoreland counties.

But there are no direct links between the Allegheny County trail and the nearby Butler-Freeport Community, Baker or Tredway trails.

Thanks to a $200,000 state grant, that's about to change.

“There's a confluence of trails that come together here,” said John Stephen, an attorney from Aspinwall involved with the Rachel Carson Trails Conservancy. “We've been trying to find a way to link them together.”

Stephen said the process was “accelerated” by the reconstruction of the Freeport Bridge, which provided a larger trailhead in Freeport and wider sidewalks across the bridge into Westmoreland County.

Stephen said the grant money, which was awarded by the Commonwealth Financing Authority last week, will be used to buy nearly 20 acres between the northern edge of Harrison Hills Park, where the Rachel Carson Trail ends, and the southern trailhead of the Butler-Freeport Community Trail in Freeport.

Harrison Commissioner Bill Poston said that land will be combined with land the township owns to complete the connection. Stephen said there also are access negotiations with Norfolk Southern for a railroad-owned parcel.

With the last puzzle pieces coming together, Stephen said the Rachel Carson Trail could be extended about 2 miles into Freeport in the next year.

That will allow people on the 37-mile Rachel Carson Trail to continue onto the 20-mile Butler-Freeport trail, or cross the bridge and access Allegheny Township's Tredway Trail, which is being extended toward Kiski Junction.

Stephen said it will not cost much to clear a path and paint “blazes,” or trail markers, to establish the last leg of the Rachel Carson, although some switchbacks may be necessary to get hikers down the steep hillside in Harrison.

He said the grant money, which is derived from programs funded by the impact fees paid by drilling companies who tap the state's Marcellus shale for natural gas, will be used entirely for property acquisition.

Dennis Revi of South Buffalo owns the vacant land in Harrison.

“They've been after me for a long, long time,” Revi said. “It's very beautiful ground. I wish them the very best. Hopefully, it will bring some happiness to a lot of lives.”

Harrison Commissioner Robin Bergstrom said township officials also are working with the Friends of the Riverfront advocacy group to establish a trail for people on bikes.

During a meeting on Monday, township officials brainstormed with Jeff McCauley, Friends of the Riverfront's stewardship coordinator, possible ways to get bikers in Natrona Heights safely down to the river.

McCauley's group promotes the development and maintenance of land and water trails in Allegheny County.

Poston noted the new trail property in Harrison — which ultimately will be owned by Allegheny County as part of Harrison Hills Park — has riverfront access.

“There is a lot of interest in this trail,” Poston said.

Liz Hayes is a staff writer for Trib Total Media.

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