Old PA Pike project would enhance region

If what’s now being called the Old PA Pike Trail project comes to pass as envisioned — despite some opposition and pessimism that has evolved regarding it — the entire Southern Alleghenies region could reap substantial benefits.

As people from near and far would hear about the new tourist attraction and start to come here to enjoy the site’s opportunities — such as cycling, hiking, overnight camping, perhaps skiing and who knows what else — many visitors likely would venture on to see some of the region’s other tourist magnets.

As people in this six-county Southern Alleghenies region know, some of the many area tourism attractions available include the Horseshoe Curve, Flight 93 National Memorial, Railroaders Memorial Museum, Johnstown Flood National Memorial, Lake Raystown, Old Bedford Village and Forts Roberdeau and Bedford.

Beyond that, visitors would spend money at local businesses and restaurants, visit motor vehicle fuel locations and check in at area hotels and motels. The annual economic benefit likely would be well into the millions of dollars, if the tourist destination were promoted as it could and should be.

To achieve maximum results, the promotional effort should be a coordinated mission involving all of the region’s counties. Not one of the six counties — Blair, Bedford, Cambria, Somerset, Huntingdon and Fulton — is without even other tourism amenities on which the region could work to capitalize in conjunction with the Old PA Pike Trail.

The Flight 93 National Memorial in Somerset County could produce a significant “spill-over” of tourists to see what the Pike Trail offers and participate in its offerings.

Again, the key will be effective, wide-ranging promotional efforts.

For people who might not know the history of the project or haven’t followed developments since a serious push on its behalf was launched in 2013, here’s a brief synopsis:

The Old PA Pike Trail is to be born out of an abandoned 13-mile stretch of the Pennsylvania Turnpike in Bedford and Fulton counties. It’s been about 50 years since that part of the turnpike, which includes the also-abandoned Rays Hill and Sideling Hill tunnels, was bypassed with new construction.

Beginning in 2001, the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy became caretaker of the abandoned turnpike section. In October 2013, plans were announced for a “Pike 2 Bike” survey, part of an economic study targeted to also allow participants to express preferences for activities at the site.

Over the years, the site has been put to some good uses, such as a state police pistol range, rumble strip test area and horror movie set. Unfortunately, it also became a “studio” for graffiti artists and experienced deterioration due to the ravages of time.

At a meeting on Nov. 1 in Breezewood, it became clear that the project hasn’t garnered 100 percent support, as some people expressed concerns about the project’s estimated $5 million cost, potential traffic problems tied to it, whether there might be negative tax impacts and whether optimism about the project’s overall potential was being exaggerated.

Such concerns aren’t insurmountable, and Bedford County Commissioner Josh Lang said at the Breezewood session that meetings with property owners and stakeholders would try to address the issues raised.

Lang was right in observing that the negative cost of ignoring the site’s potential would be greater than the expense of turning it into a vibrant tourist amenity.

The bottom line: The Old PA Pike Trail should not succumb to naysaying.

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