From a window in his home in Confluence, Pennsylvania, Bill Metzger sees “a constant parade” of trail users along the Great Allegheny Passage (GAP). He chuckles at the memory of seeing unicycles and even a penny-farthing once from this vantage point. It’s a fitting setting as Metzger is in the midst of developing the second edition of The Great Allegheny Passage Companion, a guidebook that dives into both the trail experience and the rich history along the route.
“It’s a hell of a lot of fun,” says Metzger of the trail he’s been riding for more than two decades. “When we go on the trail, it’s always different: the people you meet, the wildlife you see, the change of seasons. That’s what makes it fun.”
Spanning 150 miles from Cumberland, Maryland, to Pittsburgh, the GAP is one of the most well known rail-trails in the country and one that Metzger helped shape. As a member of the GAP’s first board, he remembers tossing around ideas for the trail’s name with a handful of people. More than 100 names were pitched, some silly and some serious, including the Spine Line (because it would be the backbone of the regional trail system) and the George Washington Trail (as the first president fought two historic battles in the area).
Naturally, we asked him for an inside scoop on the GAP’s best sections. Metzger likes the Meyersdale area toward the southern end of the trail, as that’s where “most of the goodies are,” including the Salisbury Viaduct, Meyersdale visitor station, Keystone Viaduct, Big Savage Tunnel and Big Savage Overlook.
Another rail-trail close to his heart is Pennsylvania’s Montour Trail, which forms a nearly 50-mile semicircle outside of western Pittsburgh. Metzger, who met his wife, Pam, at a bicycling and pedestrian advisory meeting, even got hitched on the trail in 1997.
Check out this excerpt from the article "Trail Ways" by Lawrence Walsh, published in the Winter 2009 issue of h Magazine:
It was August 1996. He was a co-founder of the Montour Trail near Pittsburgh. She was a staff member of Rails-to-Trails Conservancy, a national trails advocacy organization. Something in that trail mix sparked a romance that blossomed after the meeting in Harrisburg.
When they married the following June—the second time around for each—they broke with the traditions of their first weddings: his an elaborate Catholic ceremony, hers a simple justice-of-the-peace affair. Instead, friends and family wore light, summer clothes and reclined on lawn chairs as they watched Bill and Pam exchange vows at the Hendersonville trailhead of the Montour Trail. A guitarist and singer duet serenaded the gathering. “It was an appropriate setting. Next to me, the trail was the most important thing in Bill’s life.”
As one of the trail group’s first members back in 1989, Metzger says fondly, “The Montour Trail Council has some of the best volunteers in the world; if somebody says they need help with something, five hands go up.”
In addition to his roles as trail volunteer, author and photographer, Metzger is also a skilled cartographer currently working for Trains magazine, a publication the rail fan has been reading since he was a pre-teen (he’s 70 now).
To stay active, he and Pam continue to enjoy biking despite Metzger’s having a neuromuscular disease that limits the use of his legs. In 2004, a neighbor and good friend who was an occupational therapist had recommended that he try a handcycle. Metzger remembers that first outing as “pretty cool,” and two weeks later he had a handcycle of his own. Since then, he’s put more than 24,000 miles on it and says, “I couldn’t live without the bike. It saved my life.”
Interested in taking a long-distance ride on the Great Allegheny Passage and Montour Trail? Sign up for RTC’s 2017 Pennsylvania Sojourn, June 18-23, 2017!