Trail plans discussed

Logan Valley Street Car Trail runs between Bellwood and northern Juniata

Mirror photo by William Kibler Antis Township, county and development officials recently hiked the route of the First Frontier Valley Trail, pausing here near a bridge that takes the mainline railroad tracks over the Little Juniata River along the Phase 1 section of the trail.

It was a walk in the woods, but with Antis Township Manager Lucas Martsolf and Supervisor Dave Worthing at the head, it felt more like a proud pair leading friends and relatives through a hospital corridor for a peek at their new baby.

The baby is the township’s proposed Logan Valley Street Car Trail, the friends and relatives were engineers and township, county and development officials, while the walk was a 3-mile hike several weeks ago along the proposed route of the trail — partly rechristened the First Frontier Valley Trail, to reflect a path that diverges from that of the streetcars and also to reflect the marketing slogan of the Altoona Blair County Development Corp.

The trail, running between Bellwood and northern Juniata, will be built in three phases, with the township now in mid-design for the half-mile-long Phase 1. The section runs from the Route 865 underpass in Bellwood south along the alley paralleling the mainline tracks, across the massive pedestrian bridge over the tracks to Bellwood-Antis Community Park, across Bells Gap Run on a bridge that needs to be constructed, then through the woods to Becker Road, near its intersection with Kerbaugh Road.

Last week, officials from the township, consulting engineering firm Stiffler & McGraw, PennDOT, the Army Corps of Engineers and the Department of Environmental Protection met on site to discuss Phase 1 permit requirements.

Those include a permit for the bridge crossing and a National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System license for the section between the bridge and Becker Road, because that’s in the floodplain of the Little Juniata River, said engineer Jason Shura.

Water behavior analyses, outlier flooding levels and wildlife resource findings will be needed, Shura said.

The township will submit permit applications in the summer and award construction contracts at the end of next year, Shura said.

Tree cutting would occur in the winter of 2020-21, to comply with restrictions designed to protect bats, and trail construction would take place throughout most of 2021, Shura said.

The approximately $1.16 million required for Phase 1 construction work is in hand, he said.

The township owns the ground for Phase 2, which runs from Becker Road to Lower Riggles Gap Road, and has an option to buy the ground for Phase 3 — plus land on the east side of the tracks, on the other side from the Phase 3 trail.

The township expects to start looking this fall for the $1 million required to construct Phase 2, according to Martsolf.

Phase 2 could be built in 2023, Martsolf said.

Phase 3 will be assessed for environmental issues soon, based on a $42,000 contract approved last week by the township supervisors, with most of that paid for by DEP.

The township has leveraged $1.3 million in grants so far with matching money for grants.

“The township is all-in for $542,000,” Martsolf said.

“Our upfront investment has attracted state partners,” he said.

PennDOT’s Transporta­tion Assistance Program has provided $876,000, the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources’ C2P2 program has provided $470,000 and the Department of Community and Economic Development’s Industrial Sites Reuse Program has provided $31,000, according to a tally sheet provided by the township.

The state agencies have been “phenomenal” to work with, Worthing said.

When completed, the First Frontier Valley Trail will be a large element in the overall county trail structure, according to Blair County Planning Director Dave McFarland, who walked with the group.

The long-term vision calls for connecting the trail with Hollidaysburg Canal Basin Park, which in turn could connect with the Lower Trail and the Six-to-Ten Trail, McFarland said.

“This is the north-south backbone,” McFarland said.

The First Frontier would make Bellwood a “trail town,” like Williamsburg and, potentially, Hollidaysburg, according to McFarland.

The First Frontier trail will be used by hikers, bikers and cross-country skiers, who can “make a day of it” — traveling with their families from Altoona to Bellwood, where they can have beer and a sandwich before heading back, Martsolf said.

Trails make a community “more livable” and “vibrant,” said ABCD CEO Steve McKnight.

They can be “transformational,” he agreed.

They can change community dynamics, bringing people who would never meet otherwise together to socialize, said McFarland, who once worked as a ranger in a park near Philadelphia.

It gets people out from behind their electronic screens and into nature, McFarland said.

Blair is one of the least healthy counties in the state, said landscape architect Jim Laird, an ATV enthusiast who went on the group hike.

“We desperately need safe places to walk, work and play,” Laird said. “It’s not just icing on the cake — it’s a matter of life and death.”

At the time of the group hike, the Phase 3 section was being smoothed out and cleaned up by a contractor who was removing old railcars.

The trail is actually usable now along its full length, except for the lack of a bridge over Bell’s Gap Run, according to Martsolf.

Much of it runs along land abused many years ago by the rail industry, Martsolf said.

The township is welcoming ideas about potential trail improvements, Worthing said.

“The more ideas the better,” he said.

“Spread the word,” Martsolf said.

A building now owned by the township just north of Lower Riggles Gap Road could become the site of community events, according to Worthing.

There’s enough room for soccer fields and basketball courts, Martsolf said.

“This is a case study for municipal engagement in trail development,” McKnight said. “(Though) not all municipalities have an asset like this.”

“I’m digging it on all sides,” said Beth Futrick, ombudsman for the Blair County Conservation District.

Mirror Staff Writer William Kibler is at 949-7038.

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