RIDDLESBURG - One down and three to go.
The first phase of the H&BT Rail Trail is complete, and officials hope the entire 10.6-mile hiking and biking trail will be finished in 2016.
The H&BT Rail Trail reuses an abandoned railroad right-of-way and railroad bridge to provide public recreational access along the Raystown Branch of the Juniata River. The entire property, owned by Broad Top Township, includes 10.6 miles of the Huntingdon and Broad Top Mountain Railroad right-of-way.
When complete, the trail will connect Hopewell Borough and Tatesville, intersecting with two public parks - Riddlesburg Park at the north and Cooper Park at the trail center.
The railroad tracks were removed about eight years ago by former owner, Kovalchick Salvage, Broad Top Township secretary/treasurer Dave Thomas said.
People who had been walking along the rail bed, last used in the 1950s, asked the township supervisors if they could do anything to improve it.
The township decided to purchase 10.6 miles of the rail bed from Kovalchick Salvage, and supervisors formed an advisory committee. In 2010, Rails to Trails of Bedford County, a nonprofit organization, was created.
"It was something we always wanted to do. It was an absolutely beautiful opportunity for Bedford County," Rails to Trails President Ned Millward said.
Thomas estimated the total cost of the four-phase project at $872,000. He said so far more than $330,000 in grant money has been received.
Work on the first phase - 2.2 miles from Riddlesburg to Hopewell - started in July and was completed the second week of August.
The trail was built by Broad Top Township employees using township equipment.
"That way we can stretch our dollars a little further," Thomas said.
"It is beautiful. They did a superb job putting it together. The people of Broad Top Township are forward-thinking people," Millward said. "This turned out better than my wildest expectations."
The four-mile second phase from Hopewell to Cypher, which includes putting a deck on a railroad trestle bridge, is expected to begin next year and be completed in 2014.
"Without that, there would be no way to cross the Raystown Branch of the Juniata River near Cypher. That will open the trail from Riddlesburg to Cypher," Thomas said.
Millward said once the bridge is completed, people will be able to hike the entire trail, even if it isn't fully groomed.
If funding is secured, the more than two-mile third phase from Cypher to Brallier Station will be completed in 2015 and the nearly two-mile fourth phase from Brallier Station to Tatesville will be completed in 2016.
Officials are excited about the rail trail, the only one in Bedford County.
"We have noticed a great deal of activity. We expect the amount of people using it to increase. They can see nature and exercise at the same time," Thomas said. "We are at the southern end of Raystown Lake and north of the tourism district in Bedford. We are conveniently located for people to come to Bedford Springs and to use that and to stay longer and take in our rail trail."
"Economically, it will mean a lot. It will attract people of the county and surrounding counties," Millward said.
Kellie Goodman Shaffer, executive director of the Bedford County Chamber of Commerce, agreed.
"I would expect this trail and others in development in our county to become well used by both residents and visitors. We know that the economic impact of trails and other recreational attractions is very positive, and expect the Bedford County business community to benefit from and support this and other trail projects," Shaffer said.
Rails to Trails of Bedford County will hold an official ribbon cutting at noon Sept. 29 at the Riddlesburg trail head followed by a pig roast at 2 p.m. at Cooper's Park.
Mirror Staff Writer Walt Frank is at 946-7467.