A project to connect the three Sept. 11 crash sites via bike trail has been given a $100,000 head start.

Somerset County and a host of partners are preparing a request for proposals to hire a consulting firm that will conduct a feasibility study on the best way to extend the Great Allegheny Passage bike trail in Rockwood north to the Flight 93 National Memorial in Stonycreek Township. A firm is expected to be hired sometime this fall.

David G. Brickley, president of the September 11th National Memorial Trail Alliance, said this initial phase is being made possible by a $50,000 matching grant from the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources. They’ve secured an additional $50,000 from the Community Foundation for the Alleghenies, Dominion Foundation — an arm of the natural gas and electricity corporation — and several individual contributors.

“It’s been a strong partnership (with Somerset County),” he said. “We’re confident we’ve got the $50,000 co-match for the project.”

For Brickley and other supporters, however, the effort to blaze a trail from Rockwood to Stonycreek Township is only the beginning.

Ultimately, the trail alliance wants to create a loop that links the Great Allegheny Passage to the C&O Canal Towpath and the East Coast Greenway.This would be an 1,100-mile trail triangulating the crash sites inNew York City, Washington, D.C., and Somerset County.

Brickley — a former Virginia state legislator who’s helped spearhead this effort for nearly a decade — said the project has enjoyed the support of the National Park Service and both Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett and former Gov. Ed Rendell.

According to Somerset County trail coordinator Brett Hollern, county officials agreed to serve as project leaders in order to help secure the grant money.

“One of the key points is figuring out (the route),” he said. “There’s not a ton of options to get from Rockwood to Shanksville. You want to put them on the easiest route.”

Hollern said they will likely use existing roadways and trails for most of the ride. It will involve additional signage and possible road-striping to create bike lanes on wide road shoulders.

“It’s got to make sense,” he said.

Hollern added that things haven’t progressed enough to estimate a timeline for when this phase will be completed.

“This is going to be a pilgrimage trail,” he said. “It’s a combination of recreation and memorializing the people who gave their lives that day.”

Keith Newlin — deputy superintendent for the National Parks of Western Pennsylvania — said he’s happy to see the effort is gaining ground.

“We do look forward to making that connection and making that connection further north,” he said, noting that they’d like to have it link up at the Johnstown Flood Museum. “It would be an impressive ride.”

 

By BRUCE SIWY Daily American Sunday Editor bruces@dailyamerican.com  - Courtesy of dailyamerican.com