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Thursday, March 1, 2012

West Newton to Connellsville, new Connellsville Bike Loop

3/01/12 #237 52m 5h11m 41F

Today I needed to be in Monongahela, PA at 7pm, which is not in my normal range of movement so I looked for a bike ride in the area. I started at nearby West Newton, PA at 1230, rode to Connellsville along the swollen, fast, and flooded Youghiogheny River (above) via the Great Allegheny Passage and then returned to the start. It was an excellent ride.

One of the first changes I noted since the last time I was through here is the increased signage. For instance, the "Darr Mine Disaster" sign on the trail points to the stone marker and the scene of the event, an explosion which led to the removal of open-flame lamps in American mining.


Western Pennsylvania has a great tradition of fatal disasters that lead to improvements, and to me one of the most significant is the 1948 Donora Smog Disaster which gave ride to the federal EPA (unless they've already done away with the EPA because its not in the Constituion?)

I really appreciate the time, money, and research that went into these signs. In a way, they've embedded information into the trail. For me it makes the trail less of a continual, anonymous green blur, a sort of bicyclist's infinite lap pool; the signs introduce you to where you are and puts the locale into context. It's a lot like an introduction at a party; you may not ever speak to the person again, but the intro means that both you and they are somebody worthy of naming and introducing.

As I continued along the trail I saw this sign identifying coke ovens:

And looking up the hill, in a place I've been through ten times before but never noticed until now, was a significantly long line of ovens cut into the rocks (at first I thought they were filming the new Hobbit prequel here).

The trail surface was a bit wet and soft from the rain of the previous day, which explained the swollen river. There was quite a bit of water trickling down the hillside in rivulets and waterfalls, it made a very pleasant background sound.

I continued to Connellsville PA along the trail. There were very few people on the trail, a few walkers close to town, no bicyclists. This photo shows the north entry via the GAP trail:

On the left is the Yough bridge, on the right is a campground with Adirondack shelters, restrooms, water supply, and WiFi (yes!)

The Connellsville Bike Loop

Connellsville has done something very smart by establishing The Connellsville Bike Loop. How does a town differentiate itself from the other trail towns? How does a town make itself stand out when a bicyclist is choosing an overnight destination?

On the C&O Canal Trail, Hancock MD has done the best job of this that I've seen. They've built a second, paved, 20-mile parallel trail that loops around the city. You can drive out from DC, ride the paved trail for 20 miles, ride the dirt trail for 20, it's a fun day. You can do a figure-8 ride. Dad can ride 20 and then shop for Civil War Re-Enactor supplies while Mom, Beck and Billy do another 20. Downtown Hancock is at the center of the two loops: bike shop, general store, restaurants (Weaver's for pie!) They've made themselves a bike destination, and they've distributed the trail business from one end of town across the entire town.

Connellsville has just developed, signed, and published the Connellsville Bike Loop which helps visiting cyclists find their way into the downtown complex rather than only the edge of town near the trail.
click to embiggen in new window (PDF)

I'm sure the main street community will be happy to see some of the bicycle tourist activity, and now if you're a cyclist going to Connellsville you have something to do when you get there - ride one or both of the two loops. It's an excellent idea.

I had a big bowl of chili in Connellsville, put a set of chemical warmers in my shoes, and felt quite refreshed for the trip back.

As I was pedalling I saw a big movement in the trees ahead of me and a pair of big birds, very wide wingspan with white tails, were proceeded ahead of me in the space the trail cut through the overhead canopy. I think I may have spooked them, I'm glad they didn't turn around on me because these were big, powerful animals. I think they were eagles, I've had this experience with blue herons before but I've never seen birds like these. Some photo-matching suggested they might be white-tailed eagles but their domain is Eurasia, and I'm left wondering if they were bald eagles.

I was still really enjoying the trail signs on the way back. One sign told me that this bridge-tunnel is the Layton Tunnel, which I've always wondered about but never knew the name.

The last hour of the ride, the trail surface finally dried off and that added about 1.5 mph to my speed, which was a welcome boost.

I got off the bike at 6.40pm, in increasing darkness, and i was glad I had lights on the bike. Both West Newton and Confluence are excellent, bike-friendly destinations. This was a really nice ride.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for the shout-out to the Westmoreland Yough Trail Chapter's section! We worked together with the Belle Vernon Rotary to identify and mark sites along our area and even a little farther south. I'm glad they're accomplishing what we'd hoped for the trail users.
    Sorry I missed you in West Newton!