The street community runs from Pittsburgh to Cumberland, Maryland

The task of naming the road network from Pittsburgh to Cumberland, Md., Was addressed at an initial planning meeting in the mid-1990s.

Ideas were discarded. However, naming something that didn’t exist took a back seat to the real work, Linda McKenna Boxx told.

“Let’s see if we can actually build the path and if the name appears,” she said.

Well they built it. And back came the annoying missing piece.

In 2001, dozens of volunteers gathered at the Confluence Community Center in Somerset County to finally agree on a name.

Boxx, who led the effort, said there were 40 or 50 potential monikers for the former rail network. Many had the word “Allegheny” in them.

Bob McKinley, who was the trail manager at Regional Trail Corp. at the time. suggested that the name contain the word “passage”.

“Passage really had a strong response from everyone,” recalled Boxx.

Another volunteer, Bill Metzger, suggested adding the word “great,” which he believed would be a nice acronym and logo, she said.

There it was – the Great Allegheny Passage. The decision 20 years ago still stands for a hard-working group of volunteers then and now, as well as for the millions who use the trail system for short trips or long-distance trips.

“We got a lot of great compliments on the name for getting people to do it. It’s like an adventure, ”said Boxx.

It has certainly been an adventure of a good kind for many of the small towns along the 150 mile former railroad that runs through Counties Allegheny, Westmoreland, Fayette and Somerset. The economic impact has been enormous, said Bryan Perry, director of Great Allegheny Passage Conservancy, a non-profit organization that supports and coordinates the work of all volunteer groups.

While getting around a city is a huge benefit for locals, it also means tourists looking for restaurants and places to stay, and helping with booking and travel arrangements, he said.

“All of these businesses started in the last 20 years, either they were created or they were focused on destination travelers,” he said.

Such was the case of Mary Lou Rendulic, owner of Bright Morning Bed & Breakfast in West Newton, mile 113. She originally bought a house there in 2001. When friends started staying overnight so they could get on the trail early, she realized she had a potential moneymaker.

The Great Allegheny Passage has brought a sense of pride and new business to the small town of Youghiogheny River to attract hikers.

“It changed things in the city,” she said.

Rendulic owns three neighboring houses and manages a fourth with a total of 13 guest rooms. The majority of the overnight stays are trail users, some even from Brazil, Japan and Germany, said Rendulic.

A 2008 economic impact study by the Great Allegheny Passage Conservancy, then known as the Allegheny Trail Alliance, found that spending on tourists between McKeesport and Cumberland, Md., Was approximately $ 40 million, Perry said. An updated analysis, including Pittsburgh, is expected to be completed in the next few months.

A 2014-15 study found that the average spend on overnight stays was around $ 124. The majority of companies surveyed were founded in the past 10 years and many said they wanted to expand because of trail activities.

Perry said that Confluence, which, as the name suggests, is growing at the confluence of the Youghiogheny and Casselman and Laurel Hill Creek rivers in Somerset County, not far from Ohiopyle, is growing. Twenty years ago, the small town at Milestone 62 had a restaurant and four places to stay. There are now four restaurants and 20 places to stay, he said.

“This is a community that has really taken advantage of,” he said.

The Golden Triangle bike rental in Pittsburgh also took advantage of a growing demand in its 15th year of operation. After the passage became a reality, they received calls from cyclists wanting to rent equipment for multi-day trips, said owner Tom Demagall. Now most of their business comes from users of the Great Allegheny Passage.

“This part of the business was developed for people who are just joining us,” he said. “We built our services around them and the way.”

Golden Triangle Bike Rental also helps with trip planning and itineraries for travelers from other parts of the country and the world.

“It’s so accessible that it’s one of those trips you could do without a tour group,” said Demagall.

In the 1800s, the Western Maryland Railway and the Pittsburgh and Lake Erie Railroad built the passages for the transportation of coal, coke, and cargo. The lines cut a path along the Youghiogheny River and through the Laurel Highlands between Pittsburgh and Cumberland. In the 1960s, the future of the railways was in jeopardy and the routes were abandoned.

Empty train stations and evidence of a once bustling industry were left behind. In May 1975 a passenger train ran from Pittsburgh to Maryland for the last time.

It started in 1978.

That year, the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy bought 27 miles of the Connellsville-Confluence railroad, including the section that runs through Ohiopyle. When a few years later, when nine miles of the trail was covered, smaller groups of volunteers showed up elsewhere along the line in hopes of rebuilding their own sections.

Federal and state funds were made available for the project and donations were collected. Boxx said donors were receptive to the venture, which ultimately cost about $ 80 million to complete.

The Allegheny Trail Alliance was founded in 1995, including numerous smaller groups working on their own sections. Boxx, already a board member of Regional Trail Corp., became president of ATA, both of which held voluntary positions. As behind-the-scenes work continued, more of the former railroad line was purchased and sections of line were completed.

In March 2001 the name was selected and marketing of a continuous run began. In the same year, 100 uninterrupted miles were covered between McKeesport and Meyersdale, Boxx said.

But the job wasn’t done. Additional sections were completed over the next 12 years, with the entire passage completed in 2013. In Cumberland, it connects to the C&O Canal National Historical Park, which takes drivers 185 miles to Washington, DC

The Great Allegheny Passage is mostly flat and is used year round by cyclists, hikers, runners and others.

Smithton Mayor Christine Tutena said she hoped the neighborhood along the Yough River between West Newton and Connellsville, mile marker 88, can attract trail users as well as neighboring communities.

She runs Adeles Bed & Breakfast, not far from the path, in a quaint former restaurant and hotel that was built at the end of the 19th century and has been family-owned for decades. The house, named after her grandmother, opened in the 2017 season, Tutena said.

“The CAP somehow got us into it and we really tried to play it off,” she said. “Without the CAP, we would have no business. This would just be an empty building. “

Tutena hopes to attract trail users to town to help other entrepreneurs see Smithton as a potential place to start a business targeting the Great Allegheny Passage.

“There are some empty lots that we humans would like to take a risk on,” she said.

In 2020, the Great Allegheny Passage was visited by about 1.4 million people, an increase of about 50% compared to 2019. An estimated 117,000 users were considered to be “passers-by” or those who had been on the passage for several days. The Conservatory tracks usage of the trails between March and November, with infrared counters spread out along the passage and volunteers taking synchronized counts.

Volunteers are a big part of the passage. Many of these original groups, organized decades ago, still exist and maintain their respective sections. It’s a lot of work, said Perry.

“The entire trail … is run by locals, and 95% of them are volunteers,” he said. “When you see people with weed killers, mowers and chainsaws at 4am after a storm,” they are all donating their time.

Drainage is a major problem that can wreak havoc on a trail.

“Our main concern with conservation is to find out how we can raise maintenance funds to support all of these volunteer groups,” he said.

Meanwhile, new signage will soon be installed in the Steel Valley section and the Somerset County’s Big Savage Tunnel will reopen on April 9th ​​after being closed for the winter. While the passage is complete, new ways are being built by other groups to connect to the system, Perry said. In the cities along the passage, visitor numbers are increasing and users are getting younger.

“I am confident that first-time visitors will come back,” he said.



GAP, by the numbers


Miles from Pittsburgh to Cumberland, Md., Which passes through Counties Allegheny, Westmoreland, Fayette and Somerset

1.4 Million

Number of users in 2020

$ 80 million



Year completed. The first 100 contiguous miles opened in 2001 between McKeesport and Meyersdale.



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