Dunbar officially a Trail Town
One could call Monday's Trail Town meeting in Dunbar the Will and Grace show. However, unlike the TV hit, it lasted more than two hours and resulted in good news for the borough, which is now officially a Trail Town.
William Prince and Grace Markum, both with the Progress Fund's Trail Town Program, headed a walking tour in Dunbar to determine how the borough can attract visitors to use the Sheepskin Trail. The 2.1-mile path is an offshoot to the Great Allegheny Passage. The GAP runs from Pittsburgh's Point Park to the C&O Canal Towpath in Cumberland, Md. The Towpath runs to Washington, D.C.
As an official Trail Town, Dunbar will receive economic advice as well as assistance with matching grant programs. Prince and Markum agreed the borough has potential but needs to tweak its signage to make the trail easier to find for out-of-town visitors who aren't familiar with the area.
“The purpose is to see what (Dunbar) has now as well as what needs to be changed to make visitors feel welcome and more accessible (to what the town has to offer),” Markum explained.
A full house
The meeting began at Dunbar Historical Society on Bridge Street. Every seat was filled to share ideas and ask questions. Prince and Markum separated the group into three subgroups that did an impromptu walking survey. They met back at the historical society afterward for input.
Making eye-catching signs was at the top of the list — leading to the trail, on the trail and in the downtown area. It was agreed that a sign along Route 119 would be advantageous. Currently, there is no sign to direct visitors to the Sheepskin Trail. PennDOT approval will be required for that sign.
The borough has three sets of bike racks: at Dunbar Park, the historical society and the library.
Historical Society member Donna Myers said visitors are a common sight, with many of them using the historical society's small parking lot across the street. She and several other residents stressed that designated bike trail parking lots will be necessary as the trail traffic increases.
Good base to build on
Markum noted that the borough has the amenities needed to begin trail promotion, including a restaurant (The Kountry Klub), laundromat, ice cream shop (Cinderella's), playground and public restrooms. Overnight lodging is a concern if the trail catches on, she said; there is only one house — Cinderella's Castle — where one can rent a room.
It would be beneficial to have a bike rental and repair shop (the closest one is in Connellsville), as well as a water fountain near the trail, Markum added.
Myers said Dunbar Volunteer Fire Department supports the trail by providing a hose so trail users can wash their bicycles.
Connellsville resident Geno Gallo suggested heavy promotion of the history along the GAP and Sheepskin Trail.
“Dunbar is the only town around here that has a beehive coke oven replica,” said Gallo, who attended on behalf of the Fayette County Commissioners (he is an administrative assistant to Commissioner Alfred Ambrosini).
Events and promotion
Prince and Markum said the trail should be promoted with special events.
Several are already in place, including Erika's Walk, which is held the Saturday before Father's Day (this Saturday, in fact). At 18 months, Erika Miller was diagnosed with Rett Syndrome, a genetic neurological disorder that is first recognized in infancy and seen almost always in girls.
Dunbar's Ramp Festival, held for the second time in May, captured the fancy of local residents and could be a crowd pleaser. For those who don't know what ramps are, imagine a wild onion that also tastes like garlic. Sometimes called wild leeks, ramps are indigenous to eastern America.
Dunbar's popular Community Fest, a bustling hometown reunion, brings hundreds of people together to share food, music, a plastic duck derby, parade, pet contest — and more. It also features a 5K walk/run. It is scheduled for Sept. 26.
“Get as many groups involved with trail activities to promote it,” Markum advised.
Myers said plans are under way for daylong bus tours that would promote the history of Bullskin Township, Connellsville, Dunbar and Dunbar Township. The historical society keeps track of the people who use the trail via logbooks.
“At least 50 percent are attracted here from our website,” she said.
Prince and Markum collected the written comments by those who attended. The information will be studied and recommendations will be made within a month.
Next: Point Marion
The Sheepskin Trail will eventually extend from the GAP to Point Marion, near West Virginia. The Trail Town Program has planned a meeting later this month in Point Marion, Prince said.
“A lot of people who use the GAP have ridden it already. Many want to see something new,” he said.
Laura Szepesi is a contributing writer for Trib Total Media.