Rail trail leaders request funding from Portage

Council asked to commit $5,000 to cover study

By Sean Sauro

ssauro@altoonamirror.com

PORTAGE — Leaders with the Allegheny Ridge Corp. have a vision — a network of trails connecting Somerset County to Cambria and Cambria to Blair.

It’s a project that’s been ongoing for more than 20 years, and Randy Stager, a member of Allegheny Ridge’s board, said the next phase could begin soon.

But first, they need support from local communities. Last week, that support was requested at a Portage Borough Council meeting.

Council members were asked to commit $5,000 to help cover costs associated with a feasibility study for a new path called the Mainline Canal Trail. It was a request they were reluctant to fulfill.

Portage Borough Manager Robert Koban described the new trail “a spur off of” the existing Path of the Flood Trail.

The Path of the Flood connects to the Staple Bend Tunnel Trail to stretch from Johnstown to Ehrenfeld.

The planned Mainline Canal Trail would further that path, stretching from Ehrenfeld to Portage Borough, Stager said.

Communities along the proposed path have been asked to pledge monetary support, he said.

Portage Borough Council members postponed a decision on whether to offer the requested $5,000.

Later in the week, Koban said that decision is partially rooted in the past.

“We already (supported) a similar study about 15 years ago,” he said.

Koban explained the borough was part of the initial effort that lead to construction of the Path of the Flood. However, no part of that trail touches the borough.

Stager said he understands borough leaders’ frustration at the community being left out of the original trail’s path.

“I can see their hesitation,” he said.

Although the original study included plans to develop into the Portage area, “it would be outdated,” Koban said.

So a new study is needed.

A new feasibility likely will cost about $25,000, Stager said.

According to Stager, The Community Foundation for the Alleghenies had committed $10,000 toward that cost. The Portage Area Planning Commission had committed $5,000.

And Portage Township officials have agreed to contribute. Stager said he is asking them for $5,000.

That means Portage Borough’s $5,000 would cover the remaining estimated cost, he said.

Before money is pledged by the borough for that study, Koban said he wants to meet with Allegheny Ridge leaders. Since then, Stager said he has communicated with borough officials.

Koban made sure to point out that he thinks the trail is a good idea but simply wants more information before advising council on how to act.

“I really want it to happen,” he said. “I just want to know what’s different now than last time.”

The proposed trail likely would have to cross swamps, streambeds and other terrain that would require specialized construction and permits, he said, explaining the land also could affect the outcome of a study.

“I know the terrain,” he said, noting the project also would require property acquisitions. “Those are all big-cost, big-ticket items.”

If the new trail is developed, it could become part of a larger network, said Jane Sheffield, Allegheny Ridge’s executive director.

The plan is to connect through Cresson to the Allegheny Portage Railroad National Historic Site, which connects to Blair County via the 6-to-10 Trail.

At the other end, trial developers hope to build from Johnstown to the September 11th National Memorial Trail in Somerset County, Stager said.

That trail network could help to create recreation-related revenue in Portage and other communities along the corridor, Stager said.

“They are an engine for tourism,” he said.

A $1 million PennDOT grant was awarded for the construction of the Path of the Flood Trail, Sheffield said.

Recently, officials in Blair County’s Antis Township have been successful in securing grants from numerous agencies for recreation improvements and trail development. Before that, they conducted a feasibility study.

“There are a variety of sources,” Sheffield said of potential funding.

But that message came with a caveat.

“You can’t access implementation funding until you have a plan,” she said.

Mirror Staff Writer Sean Sauro is at 946-7535.

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