Closing the gap for bicycle touring on the Great Allegheny Passage

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It looks like Pittsburgh’s last leg of the Great Allegheny Passage (GAP) will open soon, finally completing a 335-mile off-road bicycle route from  Washington DC to Pittsburgh. [See the interactive map below.]

Off-road from Washington DC to Pittsburgh

Off-road from Washington DC to Pittsburgh

Crews are working on the “final mile” to link the Steel Valley Trail to the Three Rivers Heritage Trail that will deposit GAP bicyclists at Point State Park, the confluence of the Allegheny and Monongahela rivers in downtown Pittsburgh.

A “Passage to Pittsburgh” bicycle ride commemorating this achievement is scheduled to leave Washington DC on June 8 and arrive in Pittsburgh on June 15. A ceremony is scheduled for 1 p.m. June 15 at Point State Park.

Bicycle touring destination

Most of the GAP corridor has been open for bicycling since 2006. It quickly became a popular destination for bike travelers seeking long-distance bicycle touring past small towns that offered food and lodging.

Bicycle tourists could start in Washington DC and take the C&O Canal Towpath to Cumberland, Md., a distance of about 185 miles. In Cumberland, they pick up a collection of rail-trails that form GAP and head north to Pittsburgh for 150 miles. Seven trail organizations make up the Allegheny Trail Alliance, which coordinates activities on the GAP.

Big Savage Tunnel; photo by Bruce Friedland

Big Savage Tunnel; photo by Bruce Friedland

The route ends just shy of Pittsburgh, however. While getting the rail-trail route open through the Savage Mountain tunnel was difficult, the obstacles to getting a trail open through the industrial area of Pittsburgh were nearly insurmountable.

Work began last fall, however, on the final trail link past properties owned by Keystone Iron and Metal  (scrap yard) and Peter J. Caruso & Sons (asphalt). Agreements with the companies saved millions of dollars to complete the job.


In addition to the intrinsic value of providing a long-distance recreational outlet to thousands of bicyclists, the GAP has created an economic stimulus to a region where jobs can be scarce. In 2007, for instance, a study found the fledgling trail system already was responsible for $12.5 million a year into local economies, including $3 million in wages.

At a ground-breaking ceremony on the final leg last fall, Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald said the completed trail “will bring literally millions of dollars” to the area. GAP-member Allegheny Trail Alliance president Linda McKenna Boxx estimates $100 million in tourism dollars.

How popular is the GAP/C&O Canal route? The GAP website lists dates for 15 package bicycle tours that will use the route in 2013. That doesn’t include those who will undertake the bike tour on their own, or choose to just ride a portion of the route.

As soon as the GAP route opens all the way to downtown Pittsburgh, it will likely put more people on the trail.

Check out this interactive map created last year.

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    • Daniel Ronan on July 22, 2013 at 4:29 pm
    • Reply

    Include more outreach on Amtrak trains where it intersects the GAP route and Amtrak will be yet another way users can access the trail! It’s my hope older Amtrak trains may be outfitted with bicycle hooks to promote ease of transporting bicycles. Great work all in making this happen!

  1. Shuttle rides for bikers call 301.695.5177
    or information on Camping at Brunswick Family Campground

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