Beer, coffee and 21 km of additional trails on the way

An old railroad bridge spanning the Kiski River that the kids with two dogs dared to cross is now the vital link to hundreds of miles of trails and economic development.

Armstrong County just purchased the bridge, erected in 1899 over the Kiski River, and 14 miles of the old Kiski Junction railroad corridor for $3.5 million. The trail and bridge – which are not yet open to the public – will be developed over the next two years and maintained by Armstrong Trails.

The railway bridge spans the township of Allegheny and Schenley in Gilpin. This is a crucial link that will connect over 130 miles of continuous, off-road, ADA-compliant trails in Armstrong, Allegheny, Butler, Clarion, and Westmoreland counties. It will also connect to other trails, including the Erie to Pittsburgh Track.

“This bridge is everything,” said Chris Ziegler, executive director of amstrong Trailswhich currently traverses 35½ miles along the east bank of the Allegheny River in Armstrong and Clarion counties.

“There’s no Erie trail in Pittsburgh without him,” she said.

Long recreational off-road trails can add up to riders spending more money on food, accommodations, entertainment and more in smaller towns along the way.

Some local businesses are already preparing. They won’t have to wait long, trail officials said.

Ice cream, beer and coffee

The 1833 Coffee and Tea Co. in Freeport expects an influx of cyclists and tourists when the rail bridge opens. Ten or more cyclists already stop daily on the Butler-Freeport Community Trail, with the trailhead in Laneville just three-quarters of a mile from the store, said Virginia Lindsay, co-owner of the cafe.

The draws are the signature 1833 latte infused with brown sugar and cinnamon, fair trade organic iced teas and mixed berry scones from nearby Lil’ Bean Backerei.

Already serving a steady stream of customers since opening last August, the store has sold 12,000 lattes since January, Linsay said.

“People want to do something after their rides like have a good coffee, have dinner or have lunch,” she said.

Ziegler added, “Trail users want ice cream, beer and coffee.”

Lindsay has previously posted signs at the Laneville trailhead with a QR code directing cyclists to her cafe.

Cyclists need to know more about businesses in the city, and more businesses should cater to their needs, Lindsay said. Signage is required.

“Cities need to be ready,” Ziegler said. “A lot of people just want to show up on a trail and need services.”

Economic changes

Armstrong County Commissioners see the Bride and Trail Connections as a much-needed tourist magnet and economic spark for small towns along the Kiski and Allegheny Rivers, such as Freeport, Leechburg, Gilpin, Ford City, Kittanning and others .

“We all want to attract people and places to do that,” said Armstrong County Commissioners Chairman Don Myers.

County commissioners were so supportive of the Kiski Junction trail project that they landed a $3.5 million grant to pay for the purchase of the railroad from the Southwestern Pennsylvania Commission and PennDOT. The county commissioner’s secretary, Pat Fabian, is vice-chairman of the SPC.

The grant money comes from a PennDOT fund dedicated to trail development.

“If we hadn’t been there, the money would have flowed through the state,” Myers said. “We are at full throttle on the economic development and growth of this county and are seeking all available grants.”

Myers admitted that building a bike path for economic development is something different.

“Before I got involved, I had no idea it could generate so much revenue for small businesses and attract people,” Myers said.

The trails are where they are

The rail line and bridge at Kiski Junction was owned by Rosebud Mining and was used to transport coal from its Logansport mine in Bethel Township. For many years, the local interest line has also been a popular tourist attraction, especially for fall rides. The railway officially closed last year shortly after the mine closed.

The new Schenley Bridge added to Armstrong Trails is an important link to the Erie Trail in Pittsburgh, one of the main trails in the western part of the state.

“This is a critical gap filled,” said Courtney Mahronich-Vita, vice president of the Erie to Pittsburgh Trail Alliance and director of trail development for Friends of the Riverfront, which manages and develops the Three Rivers. Heritage Trail in Allegheny County.

“This is probably the biggest trail acquisition in decades in the area,” she said. “It’s a huge accomplishment.”

The Erie Trail in Pittsburgh, estimated to be approximately 140 miles long, is 66% complete. Adding the Kiski Junction Railroad portion will complete the trail by 72%, she said. Most of the remaining gaps are in Erie and Allegheny counties.

Wesley Robinson, press secretary for the state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, said ties to create longer trails mean more opportunities for residents and others.

“We are always looking to develop and expand and work with communities working on recreational trails,” he said.

The state is home to more than 12,000 miles of existing off-road trails, he said.

“There are a lot of businesses supported by people who visit the outdoors, whether it’s driving through a park or staying overnight. It’s a $12 billion industry in Pennsylvania.

Mary Ann Thomas is editor of Tribune-Review. You can contact Mary by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .

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