June 15, 2013
The final section of the Great Allegheny Passage (GAP), a rail trail spanning 150 miles (240 kilometers) between Pittsburgh and the city of Cumberland in western Maryland, was opened to the public. The GAP is heavily used by both bicyclists and hikers, and it connects with the towpath for the Chesapeake and Ohio (C&O) Canal. That towpath, coursing along much of the Potomac River, covers 185 miles (297 kilometers) between Cumberland and the neighborhood of Georgetown in Washington, D.C.
Collectively, the GAP and the C&O Canal towpath comprise a route of 335 miles (539 kilometers) between Pittsburgh and the nation’s capital. This route is part of the Mid-Atlantic region’s Potomac Heritage Trail, which encompasses 710 miles (1,140 kilometers) altogether.
The GAP was constructed along what been the right-of-way over the years for the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad (1828-1987), Pittsburgh and Lake Erie Railroad (1875-1993), Union Railroad (in operation since 1896), and Western Maryland Railway (1852-1983). GAP specifically consists of several shorter trails within that part of the United States.
In 1995, the Allegheny Trail Alliance (ATA) was established as the umbrella organization for the groups that had been representing and overseeing those trails. (ATA is now called the Greater Allegheny Passage Conservancy.) Originally known as the Cumberland and Pittsburgh Trail, the GAP was formally given its current name in 2001 as a more evocative way for highlighting the region’s geography and history.
The final portion of the GAP to be completed and opened was a nine-mile (14-kilometer) stretch between the Pennsylvania borough of West Homestead, which is located southeast of Pittsburgh, and Point State Park (popularly known as the Point) in the Steel City. The opening ceremony for this final section took place in a parking lot at Sandcastle Waterpark in West Homestead, and more than 1,000 bicyclists made their way there for the big event. “There were at least that many hugs and pats on the back,” reported that day’s edition of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
Those attending this morning ceremony included ATA project manager Jack Paulik, who used the occasion to praise the engineers responsible for building what he called “a remarkable leg of trail” for the GAP. “It required three new bridges, a tunnel and a great wall,” noted Paulik.
Linda McKenna Boxx, the president of ATA’s board, was another speaker at the ceremony. Along with singling out Paulik as “the mastermind” for the completion of the GAP, Boxx recognized a dozen other people who likewise helped make the GAP a full-fledged reality. Those individuals were gathered in a line in front of the stage. “This is the human chain of the Great Allegheny Passage,” proclaimed Boxx as they linked arms with each other.
After the ceremony, many of those in attendance rode their bicycles single-file to Point State Park to continue the celebration. These riders included Mike Doyle, who has served as that area’s U.S. representative since 1995; and Thomas J. Murphy, Jr., who was mayor of Pittsburgh from 1994 to 2006.
The prominent landmarks situated near the GAP include Kennywood, a longtime amusement park in the Pittsburgh area; and the Cumberland Bone Cave, a fossil-filled archeological site near Cumberland. In addition, the GAP crosses the Eastern Continental Divide. This hydrographic divide (also called the Appalachian Divide) separates the Atlantic Seaboard watershed from the Gulf of Mexico watershed.
Photo Credit: Public Domain
For more information on the Great Allegheny Passage, please check out https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Great_Allegheny_Passage