Pittsburgh to Erie Trail Moves Forward
by Michael Machosky
October 6, 2021
Not all cities have a focal point, an obvious gathering space where people come to socialize, take pictures and take in the view.
Pittsburgh literally has the Point, where the three rivers meet, with its iconic fountain and park a magnet for tourists and residents alike.
It’s not quite the same draw, but Erie has Dobbins Landing, on the water just down the hill from Downtown, with the 187-foot-tall Bicentennial Tower and observation deck overlooking Lake Erie.
By 2029, you should be able to ride your bike comfortably along the 270 miles between them, via a dedicated trail (90% off-road) network, if all goes according to plan. If it has anywhere near the impact of the Great Allegheny Passage from Pittsburgh to Cumberland (then onto Washington D.C.) — which has brought in about $60 million in tourism dollars o communities along the trail — it’s going to be a big deal for Pittsburgh, Erie, and all points between.
“Yeah, so, originally when they came up with the idea they had this vision of connecting three great rivers to one Great Lake,” says Director of Trail Development Courtney Mahronich Vita for Pittsburgh-based nonprofit Friends of the Riverfront.
It’s already about 66% completed and should be up to 70% by next year. For example, “Mile 0,” dedicated Sept. 19 at Dobbins Landing, is on the Bayfront Trail, a nine-mile trail along Lake Erie. Of course, the state has been building trails for years, and the low-hanging fruit is mostly finished. Now comes the hard part(s).
There are about 13 different trail organizations along the proposed route who are working on the project at the moment — all on their own separate pieces of the puzzle.
Friends of the Riverfront is working on expanding the Three Rivers Heritage Trail, which runs along all three rivers but stops abruptly in Millvale. Connecting a trail from Millvale to Etna is their particular challenge at the moment. It will then connect to other existing trails like the Treadway Trail, the Armstrong Trail, the Allegheny River Trail, the Oil Creek State Park, and Corry Rails to Trails (Corry Junction Greenway Trail), and others.
Building trails in dense urban areas is the hardest, especially in places like Pittsburgh that have a history of heavy along the riverfronts, and active rail lines.
“The big challenge there is it's all owned by Norfolk Southern (railways),” says Mahronich Vita. “So, we're really trying to work with them to establish a corridor or connection through there, but there's you know some safety concerns with having a trail so close to the rail line.”
M\any the trails are rails-to-trails developments, converted from now-unused rail lines.
“There are some safety concerns with having a trail so close to the rail line, especially when it’s active, but we're working through those issues, “says Mahronich Vita. “We’re hopeful that we'll be able to acquire, at least an easement through them or look for other creative solutions for that connection, but it's still a massive priority for us here in Allegheny County.”
There are other breaks in the trail that need to be filled too.
“There's another gap between the Tredway Trail and the Armstrong trails, which is around the Kiski junction on if you're familiar where the Kiski River meets with the Allegheny,” says Mahronich Vita.
Businesses along the trail are already salivating at the prospect.
“One of our biggest partners is Iron City Brewery, which is really very excited about the trail system,” says Mahronich Vita.
They’ve recently acquired a riverside former PPG glass factory in East Deer that is going to be converted into a sizable brewery, distillery, event venue, beer museum and perhaps even a marina. Having an active trail go right past it would be pretty ideal.
The pandemic slowed progress, but construction is largely back on track on most projects related to the trail.
As far as ending in Erie goes, they chose Dobbins Landing instead of Presque Isle State Park — Erie’s main attraction — because it already gets lots of bike traffic. A Dobbins Landing destination will be close to a downtown that is starting to see new development in terms of restaurants, bars and hotels.
“Dedicating this monument is really a milestone because it marks the end of the trail,” said Barney Scholl, President of Erie to Pittsburgh Trail Alliance in late September, at an event at Dobbins Landing.
“The momentum of this trail has been growing year after year. Every foot counts and this one is special.”
Those wanting to learn more can visit eriepittsburghtrail.org.
“We're always looking for trail champions — people that will help spearhead sections that are being developed…So yeah, they can visit our website for more information and reach out to us if they want to be involved.”