America’s Rails-with-Trails
Clarion-Little Toby Creek Trail
Elk and Jefferson counties, Pennsylvania
Opened in sections between 1997 and 2000.
The 19-mile Clarion-Little Toby Creek Trail is
located in a rural area of the state where recreation opportuni-
ties are emphasized and promoted. The trail parallels Little
Toby Creek as well as the eastern side of the meandering Clarion
River, which has been federally designated for preservation as
part of the National Wild and Scenic Rivers System. Both the
Clarion River and Little Toby Creek are popular trout fishing
waters. Running north to south, the trail connects the small
towns of Ridgway and Brockway. A majority of the trail’s facili-
ties fall within State Game Lands, including the section of trail
along active rail line. Nearby public lands include national and
state forests. The trail lies at the gateway to a region promoted
by the state as the “PA Wilds,” and is home to the largest elk
herd east of the Mississippi River.
The original rail line that created this corridor was built by
the Clearfield to Ridgway Rail Company in 1886 to transport
lumber and coal. The Penn Central Corporation ceased using
the corridor in the 1960s. Today, an active Class II rail line
operated by Buffalo and Pittsburgh Railroad, Inc. parallels the
trail for 1.8 miles.
The trail surface is crushed limestone. An approximate
width of 12 feet is maintained for the entire 19 miles. While
the trail is always located on the eastern side of both water-
ways, an active rail line crosses the Clarion River at several
locations, creating a segment of rail-with-trail.
This section is located in a valley where the Clarion River, the
rail line, the trail and State Route 949 all come together at the
river’s narrowest width. The rail-with-trail section has some
intermittent grade separation along the 1.8 miles.
A four-foot-high fence with metal posts and ¼-inch steel cable
was installed to maintain a physical barrier between the active
rail and the trail.
$1.7 million of federal and state grants, along
with a small amount of private donations and municipal funds,
were used to plan and construct the trail. The majority of
funds came from the Keystone Recreation, Park, and Conser-
vation Fund program administered by DCNR, and the Federal
Transportation Enhancements (now known as Transportation
Alternatives) program.
The rail-with-trail section became a major issue involving three
state departments, with legal action taken by the railroad in 2004
threatening to close the trail. Though the Tricounty Rails to Trails
Association had followed the requirements of the Pennsylvania
Game Commission (who owned the right-of-way), PennDOT,
DCNR, and the railroad had safety and liability concerns.
A number of organizations, including RTC, were called in to
assist in negotiations between Tricounty Rails to Trails Asso­
ciation and the railroad. Following a visit from the secretary
of PennDOT, the stakeholders made a commitment to work
together. DCNR paid to have a feasibility study
for the 1.8-mile rail-with-trail section which examined all pos-
sibilities, including relocating both the trail and rail line. In the
end, after nearly 10 years of negotiating, it was agreed that a
fence and appropriate signage presented the best compromise.
Dale Fox)