This blog is courtesy of Toni Henry, participant in the East Brady Trail Town initiative, a committee under the East Brady Area Development Corporation. Toni has been an avid supporter of trails and active participant in the building of the Armstrong Trail, a trail which will eventually connect to the Great Allegheny Passage in Pittsburgh. The following offers a perspective on her work in the area.
Eight years ago when I moved from Pittsburgh to East Brady I had a personal vision of being able to ride my bike out of my garage, onto the Armstrong Trail and south to Kittanning. At the time, that wasn’t possible unless you had a mountain bike, were prepared to share the trail with speeding dirt bikes and were willing to risk be confronted by angry, adjacent property owners.
I am happy to say that in 2017 I can indeed ride my bike out of my garage and onto Kittanning ….. and to my delight to New Bethlehem and Brookville also! Much has been accomplished in those eight years!
Our local Armstrong Trail is also a part of a much larger effort to complete a long distance trail from Erie to Pittsburgh and to connect a multi-state network of trails. Connecting trails connects communities. Connected communities benefit by longer trail systems and users who are looking for amenities such as overnight accommodations, bike repair shops, meals etc. Those services provided in towns bring dollars into those towns.
The ability to improve and connect trails comes at a price. That price being the time and efforts of committed volunteers cutting brush, picking up litter, spreading stone, applying for grants, holding fundraisers, promoting the trail through newspaper and electronic PR and meeting with local officials and towns people. The Armstrong Rails to Trails Association supports the Allegheny Valley Land Trust in these efforts. Complicated issues of obtaining right of ways, negotiating with property owners, executing agreements and prosecuting those who abuse the trail are often handled by the trail corridor owner, The Allegheny Valley Land Trust.
Rarely are the townships and/or municipalities that the trails connect asked for monetary support for the trail that serves and enhances their community.
Those who do not use the trail personally often don’t understand the benefits of having a trail in their backyard. Beyond the health benefits to local residents and visitors – providing a safe and free place to walk, hike, bike, bird watch etc. the trail brings others into our communities. Those others spend money in our towns and help to boost the local economy. Local governments are often spread thin. Embracing and promoting the trail are not high on their priority lists. Often they see perceived liabilities over proven benefits.
What are we doing to conquer this challenge
It is our goal to convince naysayers that trails are a very positive part of their communities and that they will bring much needed tourism dollars with them. We can best do this through education; offering informational sessions to the community as a whole and to the governing officials, training local businesses owners and getting people out on the trails to see for themselves what a wonderful amenity is in their backyard!