Large grant to carve out new trail

Antis Township receives $155,000 for project

It was hard to keep up with the walking and talking of Antis Township Manager Lucas Martsolf late Tuesday afternoon, as he showed what the township plans to do with a $155,000 grant from the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources — announced by the governor’s office a couple of hours earlier.

Martsolf’s enthusiasm for the Logan Valley Streetcar Trail project — for whose Phase 1 engineering the grant will pay 80 percent — seemed hard to contain.

Likewise, the township’s streetcar project itself will not be contained to Antis Township, if Martsolf has his way.

He wants the trail to become the hub for an area trail network, with connections to Altoona to the south and eventually Hollidaysburg and — long-term — to Tipton, Tyrone and even State College to the north, making it part of a multi-state complex that includes the Sept. 11 National Trail.

Making those connections will require lots of intergovernmental cooperation — one of the actions cited as necessary for regional advancement in the recently completed six-county comprehensive plan of which Blair County is a part, Martsolf said.

He said the creation of the Streetcar Trail will promote public health, recreation and the use of alternative transportation modes, also cited as important for the region in that comprehensive plan.

In making connections with other communities, especially Altoona, the trail will bring in hikers, bikers and runners who will use businesses in downtown Bellwood in a way that has proven to revitalize other trailside communities he’s visited, like Confluence, Martsolf said.

Trails are economic development tools, he stated.

The Keystone Fund DCNR grant announced by Gov. Tom Wolf’s office on Tuesday will allow the township to hire an engineering firm within a couple of weeks to design a stretch of trail that will go from the Route 865 underpass in Bellwood southward along the alley that parallels the mainline tracks, across the underused but massive new pedestrian bridge over the tracks to the Bellwood-Antis Community Park, across Bells Gap Run on a bridge that will need to be constructed, and over rural ground to Becker Road, near its intersection with Kerbaugh Road, according to Martsolf.

It’s a total distance of about half a mile, and it will connect at the park with the Bells Gap Trail, which begins there and runs west along roadways to a trailhead at Route 865 and Igou Road, after which it runs through woods westward to Cambria County.

The township already has the money for construction of Phase 1 — $875,000 from PennDOT’s Transportation Alternatives Set-Aside Projects fund, announced in May.

The Bells Gap Run bridge along the Phase 1 route will be expensive — maybe $400,000, Martsolf said.

Co-opting the big pedestrian bridge as part of the trail will help justify its multi-million-dollar cost, he said.

The alley is a “paper street” for which most adjacent property owners have waived future claims — although the municipality exercised eminent domain against the potential claims of three who did not, he said.

The trail will be another easement on the alley, along with easements for water, sewer and gas, Martsolf said.

Phase 2, which will cost about $900,000, but for which there is no money yet obtained for construction, will run along an old coal-truck hauling road that goes parallel to — and between — Kerbaugh Road and the mainline tracks from Becker Road to Lower Riggles Gap Road.

The township already owns about half the needed land for Phase 2 and is hopeful of obtaining $321,000 from DCNR to buy the rest of the needed land, along with some additional ground south of Lower Riggles Gap Road into Logan Township, to encourage the extension of the trail toward Altoona, and to reimburse itself for Phase 1 land acquisition, according to Martsolf.

The route for Phases 1 and 2 actually doesn’t run along the former streetcar route, except for the alley stretch, according to the township’s trail study and Martsolf.

Planners decided against following that route because much of it runs along Old Sixth Avenue Road, where there could be traffic issues and because the off-road route provides “conservation” opportunities, including access to the Little Juniata River, a high-quality trout stream, according to the plan and Martsolf.

Phases 3, 4 and 5 — each costing about $1 million — would extend the trail from the Route 865 overpass northward along the Logan Valley Streetcar trace, which runs eastward of and parallel to the railroad mainline, to the industrial park in Tipton.

So far, the trail effort had been working out.

“The pieces couldn’t have flowed together better,” Martsolf said, explaining that what would normally have taken six years has taken three.

While showing off the Phase 1 route Tuesday, the manager stepped into the Bellwood Borough building to tell Borough Council President Herb Shelow the news about the grant.

“Outstanding,” Shelow said. “Outstanding.”