Since last fall, the Power of 32+ Regional Trail Network has made great progress advancing its vision of a connected regional trail system by 2033.
A key step was the formalization of a coalition in support of establishing a regional trail network. According to Amy Camp, land and water trail specialist at the Pennsylvania Environmental Council, the group of 19 partner organizations—who officially signed on to the coalition—meet three times a year and work towards trail completion and the advancement of trail-based economic development.
During July, the coalition, in partnership with the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy and the National Park Service Rivers, Trails, and Conservation Assistance program, hosted a series of meetings throughout the region with local decision makers to present the regional trail network plan. The meetings were held along key corridors: Pittsburgh to Cleveland, Pittsburgh to Ashtabula and the Northern West Virginia Loop.
“It was a great opportunity to go to the local level and talk to trail advocates, elected officials and planners about the project,” explains Camp. “The meetings gave us a chance to give an overview of the project and the vision, show them the map, and get input on needed changes and challenges for towns along the trails.”
Response to the plan was positive. “It was a good exchange,” says Camp. “There were really valuable conversations.”
The next step is to present a report to coalition partners on September 11 that shares the feedback collected during the meetings. In addition, a plan is being developed for how the coalition will manage the project going forward.
Another key project was the submittal of a $5.7 million TIGER (Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery) grant through the U.S. Department of Transportation. The grant is a regional request for planning and implementing 13 different projects across Pennsylvania, Ohio and West Virginia.
“If we get the grant it will allow us to move a lot of our planning efforts forward and get some challenging sections of trail completed,” points out Camp.
Camp says they are hoping to learn the disposition of the grant in the fall.
“It was a massive undertaking to go through the process,” she adds. “Whether we get the grant or not, the process has propelled the project forward. We now know a lot more about our trails and initiatives than when we started.”
In fact, activities in Ohio have drawn the attention of the The George Gund Foundation of Cleveland, Ohio. “The foundation recently approved a $100,000 grant to Rails-to-Trails Conservancy to support its involvement in the project and to fund some much needed trail counters to be placed along trails throughout the network.”
Since starting in 2012, the regional trail network has been expanded to 53 counties in five states, and nearly 1600 miles of trails — about 53% are already complete. The Regional Trail Network is using technology to promote the trails and trail towns. “They continuously update GIS trail data and present the data on http://www.gototrails.com, a site used by project partners and other trail planners. Pennsylvania Environmental Council is additionally developing a wayfinding app (now in beta form) that guides trail users to area trails and trail town amenities." That’s progress.