Bellwood residents laud benefits of $2 million trail plan

BELLWOOD — Residents lauded a $2 million plan to construct a 2-mile trail in the Bellwood region for its possible tourism and recreation benefits.

Several dozen people visited the Bellwood-Antis Public Library Wednesday evening to study drawings of the proposed route and to listen to a presentation from Amy Wiles, a planner with the Pittsburgh-based Mackin Engineering Co.

In December, Antis Township officials announced they had been awarded $22,500 in Department of Conservation and Natural Resources grant funds to conduct a trail feasibility study. The total cost of the study, conducted by Mackin, was $44,500.

Wednesday’s meeting was set up to provide the results of that study.

“It’s a pretty exciting project,” Township Manager Lucas Martsolf said, addressing the crowd.

The project, Wiles said, includes constructing a 2-mile trail that will stretch from Bellwood Borough to Lower Riggles Gap Road.

The trail is part of a cooperative borough-township comprehensive parks and recreation overhaul, which is intended to improve the local community, Wiles said.

A community survey was distributed as part of that plan, and residents who responded listed trail creation as a chief desire.

“Overwhelmingly, people just wanted to see more walkability,” Wiles said.

Several alignments — or routes — were examined during the feasibility study, Wiles said. On Wednesday, a route plan was revealed with poster-size images displayed on easels.

They showed a path that would begin at a trailhead beneath a Route 865 overpass near the intersection of East Antis and Main streets.

From there, walkers and cyclists would travel southwest along a short off-road trail before moving to an existing alley, which stretches perpendicular to Main Street beginning near its intersection with Tuckahoe Street.

Township solicitor Patrick Fanelli said Wednesday that he is working to determine who has ownership of the alley.

Trail users would then cross nearby railroad tracks using an existing pathway near Boyles and Station streets before again traveling southwest.

A fiberglass bridge likely would be installed to span Bells Gap Run, according to the drawings.

Once across the stream, the trail would follow along an Altoona Water Authority waterline. Users would move toward and then across Becker Road before continuing along the waterline to an existing bridge that spans the Sugar Run stream.

That bridge may need some improvements, Wiles said.

From the bridge, the trail will continue to its endpoint at Lower Riggles Gap Road, where there likely will be a second trailhead, according to the presentation.

The proposed path, which utilizes old coal roads, is the most feasible route, according to the study, Wiles said.

“We just looked at it saying … ‘OK, yes, this alignment makes sense; the property owners are on board,'” Wiles said.

In order to move the project forward, municipal leaders must buy some land from private owners, Martsolf said, revealing that he had already met with them about a purchase.

Martsolf said DCNR grant funds can be used to purchase land and estimated land acquisition costs at about $300,000.

Land acquisition expenses are separate from the $2 million cost of the trail project. That “very rough estimate” includes permitting, design, engineering and construction, Wiles said.

Martsolf has long said that he hopes to use grant funds to pay for the majority of the project, as well as other recreation improvements.

This year, township officials are seeking about $900,000 in PennDOT grant funds, and, in the spring, they plan to pursue another $500,000 from DCNR.

“Each year we have funding available for more projects,” said Jay Schreibman, a regional adviser with DCNR.

Schreibman spoke at the Wednesday meeting, explaining he was impressed with the crowd that gathered at the library and was “glad to see the progress” and support.

On Thursday, Schreibman reached out to Martsolf via an email, encouraging him to fill out a retroactivity waiver that would allow the township to purchase land now, and reimburse itself with grant money after it is later received.

Martsolf said several private corporations, such as the outdoor sports retailer REI and the ClearWater Conservancy, also have contacted him about grant opportunities.

“It’s been pretty amazing how many people are actually coming to us,” he said.

Still, Martsolf made sure to point out that grant funding is not guaranteed.

“We are competing with a lot of other projects,” he said.

Wiles suggested that the use of public works employees and volunteers could reduce expenses. Her suggestion was met with comments from those in attendance, who called for Eagle and Boy Scouts to pitch in, too.

If completed, the new trail could meet up with existing and developing trails to the north and south, becoming part of the greater Blair County Greenways plan, officials said.

“It truly is an investment,” Antis Township Supervisor Dave Worthing said, echoing claims made by others that the trail will bring tourism dollars and other economic benefits to the area.

Supervisor Robert Smith spoke Wednesday, too, explaining that the trail also will revitalize an area in the township that was once used as an illegal garbage dump.

“It brings a brightness to the community,” he said.

A project timeline was not revealed Wednesday evening.

Mirror Staff Writer Sean Sauro is at 946-7535.