Biden signs September 11th Memorial Trail into law
Sheffield, King among officials on hand to witness ceremony at White House
A new looped trail was signed into law Wednesday that memorializes the victims of 9/11 and runs through the heart of Blair County.
Legislation for the September 11th National Memorial Trail was signed by President Joe Biden Wednesday morning, and several area trail pioneers were in attendance to see their dreams become a reality.
“We are overjoyed that this is really happening,” said Karl King, an Altoona resident who serves as the secretary of the September 11th National Memorial Alliance. “The trail itself is more than just recreation. It’s a means for people to go out, reflect and remember the events of 9/11. It provides a chance to give some thought of what happened and the sacrifices that people made.”
King and Jane Sheffield, who is the executive director of the Allegheny Ridge Corp. and also serves as treasurer of the September 11th National Memorial Alliance, helped to spearhead the project and attended a special ceremony Wednesday at the White House to witness Biden approve legislation for the trail.
Under the legislation, which was unanimously passed by Congress, the Department of Interior will be able to develop the trail route and also produce signage, interpretive guides and educational materials.
“For those of us who have been working hard on the ground to close the gap and make connections between communities, this is a real win for us,” Sheffield said. “This will serve as a tremendous boost to our region, and we are beyond excited.”
The September 11th National Memorial Trail will start at the Pentagon Memorial in Arlington, Virginia, and extend northwest to the Flight 93 National Memorial near Shanksville.
The trail then continues east to New York City’s National September 11 Memorial and Museum and will connect to the 9/11 Memorial Garden of Reflection.
The loop concludes at the National Mall in Washington and ultimately returns to the Pentagon Memorial.
The trail stretches across about 40 miles of Blair County and enters from Cambria County at the Allegheny Portage Railroad & Incline Trail, traveling through the 6 to 10 trail in Juniata Township before exiting Blair County at the Rails To Trails of Central Pennsylvania in Williamsburg.
“This will have a major boost economically to our area,” said Mark Ickes, executive director of Explore Altoona. “This is going to create a lot of opportunities for communities such as Duncansville, Hollidaysburg and Williamsburg. The growth of trail enthusiasm and trail users has enhanced those communities tremendously, and it’s great to put Blair County on the map with a designation as big as this. We believe this will have a huge impact on our area.”
After the signing, King and Sheffield were given an exclusive tour of the White House by Biden.
The president provided a personal tour that lasted over an hour and included several areas typically restricted to tourists, such as his swimming pool, screening room and fine China collection.
“He really demonstrated the fact that he appreciates the work we are doing and our efforts,” Sheffield said. “It was very collegial, and it was overall a great experience.”
King said the personal tour of the White House by the president was a “humbling experience.”
“He took an hour out of his time to give us a guided tour of the White House,” King said. “I’m very appreciative of him taking time out of his schedule. It was an unforgettable experience.”
Legislation for the trail was introduced by U.S. Rep. Gerald Connelly, D-Virginia.
The September 11th National Memorial Trail Alliance was founded by David Brickley, who previously served as the director of the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation and is now president emeritus of the memorial alliance.
The idea of forming a national memorial trail was presented by Brickley shortly after the attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, and King said the entire organization has worked nonstop to make the national designation a reality.
“This has been years in the making,” King said. “There was a lot of work and a lot of people that went into making this possible.”
Mirror Staff Writer Calem Illig is at 814-946-7535.