Allegheny Ridge receives $202K for canal greenway

Allocation part of $50M in grants from Keystone Fund

The Allegheny Ridge Corp. has received a $202,000 grant from the state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources to continue its work on developing the Pittsburgh-to-Harrisburg Mainline Canal Greenway.

As one of 12 organizations assigned to develop the state’s 12 Heritage Areas, the corporation received the grant from a legislatively designated development fund administered by DNCR, according to Jane Sheffield, the corporation’s executive director.

The allocation was part of $50 million in grants from the Keystone Fund, the Environmental Stewardship Fund, the ATV/ Snow­mobile Fund and the federal Land and Water Conservation Fund, along with other federal sources, to support 280 recreation, conservation and community revitalization projects, according to an announcement by Gov. Tom Wolf’s office.

The grants included $237,900 to Antis Township for purchase of 367 acres that will become part of the Logan Valley Streetcar Trail; $40,000 the Central Blair Recreation and Park Commission for a multi-municipal Comprehensive Recreation, Park and Open Space Plan; $40,000 to Greenfield Township for rehabilitation of Claysburg Community Park; $40,000 to Gallitzin Borough for development of Gallitzin Athletic Field Park; $25,000 for development of the Huntingdon & Broad Top Township Rail Trail in Broad Top Township, Bedford County; and $88,000 to the ClearWater Conservancy of Central PA for construction of 33 acres of riparian forest buffer in Huntingdon and Centre counties.

The Pittsburgh-to-Harris­burg Mainline Canal Greenway, the idea for which began in the late 1990s, is designed to “reconnect rural communities that were once connected by the mainline canal system” by using trails for recreation, while at the same time creating opportunities for small business development related to enhanced tourism, Sheffield said.

Once the overall concept was in place, Allegheny Ridge started working with communities along the corridor to develop a consensus about the elements of a greenway plan, which was completed in 2006.

“Since then, we have been working on many different pieces,” Sheffield said.

In addition to developing trails, many of them over former railbeds, the work has included development of the Juniata River and the Kiski-Conemaugh water trails — which has involved carving out access points and setting up interpretative and wayfinding signs, Sheffield said.

The corporation’s work has also included community development along the greenway, finding out what communities want — their “prized projects,” often for recreation or historic preservation — then helping them identify funding sources, develop business plans and manage grants and contracts.

The corporation provides its services to the communities for free, according to Laura Hawkins, coordinator for the western section of the greenway and the only other corporation employee.

“The communities we work with don’t have a lot of resources,” Hawkins said. “I go in and work with them to (develop) whatever they’re hoping to see happen.”

Like the other Heritage Area management organizations, Allegheny Ridge applies to DCNR each year for operational funding, submitting a work plan — the details of which need to be approved by the department, Sheffield said.

“DCNR selects what they’d like us to do from the work plan, and we do it,” Sheffield said.

The corporation also obtains funding from other state and federal agencies and from foundations, Sheffield said.

About 80 percent of the greenway is actually in place in the west, Hawkins said.

Less of it is in place in the eastern half, she said.

The corporation is working on filling in the gaps throughout.

It’s finishing up a feasibility study on extending the Lower Trail from its current eastern terminus at Alexandria to Lewistown, Sheffield said.

It’s about to begin updating a feasibility study on extending the eastern end of the Path of the Flood trail at Ehrenfeld northeast to Portage and then over more problematic terrain to the Allegheny Portage Railroad National Historic Site near Cresson, she said. At that point, there could be a connection with the western end of the Six-to-Ten Trail, the eastern end of which is at Foot of Ten. The Central Pennsylvania Rail to Trails group is working on a connection between that Foot of Ten terminus of the Six-to-Ten Trail and the western end of the Lower Trail, Sheffield said.

If all those connections are eventually made, there would be connectivity — or near connectivity — between Lewistown and the western end of the Path of the Flood Trail in Johnstown.

The corporation is also working on extending the Ghost Town Trail from its western end the short distance to Blairsville, which will mean construction of a pedestrian-bike bridge over Route 22, Sheffield said.

And the corporation is working on connecting Blairsville with the nearby eastern end of the West Penn Trail, Sheffield said. The West Penn Trail goes all the way west to Delmont.

Mirror Staff Writer William Kibler is at 949-7038.

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