by Jonathan Weaver
Earlier this week, a trail that runs through northeastern Armstrong County was recognized by the state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources.
Secretary Ellen Ferretti announced earlier this week that Redbank Valley Trails in Armstrong, Clarion and Jefferson counties is the 2014 ‘Trail of the Year’ in Pennsylvania.
“Redbank Valley Trails stood out because of the dedicated work of tremendous volunteers; its scenic beauty; connection to other trail systems; and quick and efficient pace of development,” Ferretti wrote in a news release.
Redbank Valley Trails Association President Darla Kirkpatrick has multiple properties that the trail runs through in Jefferson County.
Kirkpatrick, of Shannondale (Jefferson County), has been president for three years, but hasn’t been able to ‘play’ on it as much this season.
“Unfortunately, we’ve been working so hard on the trail that I don’t get to play on it as much as I would like to, but this winter, we have enjoyed cross-country skiing on it – it’s just spectacular,” Kirkpatrick said.
Kirkpatrick dedicated the award to the organization’s “amazing, dedicated volunteers and our community, local government and business supporters who have committed so much of their time, energy, equipment and money.”
Some of those ‘tremendous business supporters include Rosebud Mining in Kittanning for allowing volunteers to use their grater, a roller and dozers and Grange Lime and Stone in Punxsutawney for 1,000 pounds of crushed limestone initially and more since at a discounted rate.
“This is such a huge honor – this is statewide! I’ve ridden a lot of the other trails that were up for the award, and they’re spectacular,” Kirkpatrick said. “But, I guess this just shows what a few people in a great organization can do, to make something better in the community.
“We’re over-the-moon with excitement about the award.”
Directors hope this announcement will be “the final push” to receive new funding to open the currently-closed Climax Tunnel at Mile 17, closed because of an unstable roof.
About $738,000 was given so far – $500,000 through DCNR and $238,000 through the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation.
“The more trail users that come, the more economic impact it will have on our area – we’re excited to be a part of that,” Kirkpatrick said.
Senate Engineering engineers are currently planning repairs, so the total needed is unknown.
“Our volunteers are amazing – we have built 15 bridges across the Redbank Creek and other smaller tributaries. We can do that – we can build parking lots, work on drainage, but we are not tunnel builders. That project, we need help with,” Kirkpatrick said.
The release estimated that volunteers have contributed more than 3,000 hours per year since 2010 to trail development.
Another pending project includes completing the last incomplete three-mile stretch between the communities of Coder and Baxter in Jefferson County this March.
Kirkpatrick – who began as a volunteer when the organization was founded in 2010 – initially found out about the award at the beginning of last week – the day after January’s board meeting – but had to keep the announcement secret until this week’s press release– which Kirkpatrick said was difficult.
“That’s like having your Christmas present in your lap and not being able to open it for a week,” Kirkpatrick said. “It was really hard to do.”
The main portion of trail starts in Brookville, Mile 41, and follows Redbank Creek through Summerville (Jefferson County), Mayport (Clarion County) and New Bethlehem (Armstrong County), just to name a few locales, connecting schools, soccer fields and more rural areas to commercial and residential centers. It then connects to the Armstrong Trail and further the Erie to Pittsburgh Trail.
Owned by Allegheny Valley Land Trust, the trail network is a former railroad line. Allegheny Valley Land Trust has title to the corridor and works with the Redbank Valley Trails Association to make improvements for trail use.
Volunteers are always welcome. Members meet the third Monday of each month.
During even months (which includes February), the organization meets at 7PM within the New Bethlehem Presbyterian Church and during odd months, volunteers meet at 7PM within the Brookville Presbyterian Church to try and attract more residents.
Other events and information is available on the organization’s website or Facebook page.
To honor the Trail of the Year, the advisory committee and DCNR will create a commemorative poster for statewide distribution.
There were 18 trails nominated during the inaugural awards.