With the demise of the Kiski Junction Railway in Gilpin and surrounding communities, Armstrong Trails wants to convert the corridor to a 14 mile recreational trail.
The Kiski Junction Railroad was a 165-year-old short line used for commercial transportation and fall leaf tours for tourists. The owner of the railway, Rosebud Mining, has gone out of business in recent years and is working through the legalities to shut the railway down permanently.
Rosebud chairman Jim Barker said the company was exploring options for the rail corridor. It has already started selling railway equipment.
For years, the Armstrong Trail organizers have viewed the railroad as an essential link to a series of existing recreational trails.
“While sad to see some of our heritage up close, you can’t help but be excited about the growth possibilities for the area,” said Chris Ziegler, Executive Director of Armstrong Trails.
The Armstrong Group is proposing a project worth at least $ 5 million to install a new trail along the rail corridor. It would serve as a vital link between the Erie Trail and Pittsburgh, Ziegler said.
“It is a game-changer for recreation in the region,” he said.
The new trail would connect with other trails in the area, creating opportunities for cyclists and hikers to enjoy multi-day trips, which earn more tourist dollars than just day trips, according to Ziegler.
For example, multi-day trips generate $ 124 for local businesses, while day trips make around $ 18, Ziegler said, citing tourism statistics from the Great Allegheny Passage, Cumberland’s 150-mile trail, in Maryland, in Pittsburgh.
The trail would boost tourism in the county, said Donald Myers, chairman of Armstrong County Commissioners.
“We support the trail, and I hope everything is going well,” he said. “Everything revolves around tourism. The trail could be marketed to attract more people to the county. “
Local restaurants, shops and other businesses would benefit from visiting cyclists and hikers in communities along the way, known as “trail towns,” Ziegler said.
“Trail towns revitalize rural communities by expanding outdoor tourism, small businesses and connecting people and communities in all directions. Just like a bicycle wheel, the hub is the community and the spokes are the trails, ”she said.
Developing the Kiski Junction rail corridor into a trail is strategic: one end of the Armstrong trails ends along the Allegheny River in Rosston, Manor Township.
The next logical extension would be the Kiski Junction Corridor, which begins in Rosston, crosses the banks of the Allegheny for 10.25 miles to Schenley, with a railway bridge crossing the Kiski River to Allegheny Township. Another segment begins at Schenley and follows the Kiski River on the Armstrong County side for almost 4 miles to the Baghdad section of Gilpin, near Leechburg.
Armstrong Trails is an integral part of the Erie to Pittsburgh Trail, the PA Wilds Trail, the Main Line Green Channel from Pittsburgh to Harrisburg, Ziegler said. The Armstrong Trails Extension could link it to other local trails including the Baker, Rachel Carson, Butler-Freeport, Tredway and Roaring Run.
Ziegler works on a fundraising plan, submits applications and talks to foundations.
“The ball is rolling,” she said.
If the trail group comes to an agreement with Rosebud, Ziegler said, the acquisition and start of installation of the trail could take place within two years.
Residents wishing to see the new trail can send a letter of support to [email protected] by mail to Armstrong Trails, PO Box 777, Kittanning, PA 16210.
Mary Ann Thomas is a writer for Tribune-Review. You can contact Mary at 724-226-4691, [email protected] or via Twitter.