The Great Allegheny Passage sounds like something blazed for grisly pioneers in deerskin, not cyclists in spandex.
But a group of folks from everyday walks of life is creating this rail-to-trail route.
They say that as early as 2006 it will carry cyclists all the way from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, to Cumberland, Maryland, a distance of about 150 miles.
At Cumberland, cyclists can pick up the C&O Canal towpath (above left), which is an ever-descending path along the Potomac River all the way to Washington DC, some 184 miles. Together, they'll be part of the Potomac Heritage National Scenic Trail.
The C&O Canal path has been open for years; I bicycled parts of it in 1978 when my Fuji was new and shiny (it was no longer shiny after dealing with the towpath mud holes). The Great Allegheny Passage, also known as The Cumberland & Pittsburgh Trail, is nearing completion.
Overseeing completion of the Passage is the Allegheny Trail Alliance, a coalition of 7 trail groups in Pennsylvania and Maryland.
The trail, mostly abandoned railroad lines, is packed crushed limestone. The average grade is less than 2%. The Big Savage Tunnel at the eastern Continental Divide in Pennsylvania is the high point. From there, the trail drops 1,700 feet to Cumberland and 1,600 feet to Pittsburgh.
The group reports that as of September, 103 miles were complete from McKeesport (just southeast of Pittsburgh) to Meyersdale (a few miles north of the Maryland line). The trail is complete from the Maryland line to Frostburg and a few miles beyond (a distance of 10 or so miles).
The sections linking McKeesport to Pittsburgh and Meyersburg to the state border, both in Pennsylvania, are unfinished, although the latter section should be complete by the end of the year, according to the trail website. A section beginning east of Frostburg to Cumberland in Maryland still needs to be completed.
In August, Maryland Gov. Robert Ehrlich promised the state's commitment to finishing the final 9-mile link to Cumberland, at an estimated cost of $5 million. Maryland officials say the trail will be complete by the end of 2006. The Cumberland Times-News reports in an editorial (posted on the Allegheny Highlands Trail website):
“True to form for a project that has struggled for more than a decade to become reality, funding remains a dicey issue. That's why the governor's commitment is so important.”
Cyclists aren't the only ones looking forward to completion of the route. Frostburg and Cumberland area businesses expect to eventually see a quarter million visitors to the county, spending $3.5 million a year.
Here are the websites for most members of the Allegheny Trail Alliance. They all have maps or tell the status of their section of trail:
Youghiogheny River Trail (North);
Youghiogheny River Trail (South), part of Ohiopyle State Park;
Steel Valley Trail Council;
Allegheny Highlands Trail (PA),
Allegheny Highlands Trail (MD),
Montour Trail, and
The Three Rivers Heritage Trail.
More on the Great Allegheny Passage, as well as dozens of other bike paths and routes in the Washington DC area, is available at Bike Washington.