Rails-to-Trail’s Conservancy’s 2017 Pennsylvania Sojourn—with its amazing sites, legendary route along the Great Allegheny Passage (GAP) and Montour Trail, and welcoming towns—promises to be an adventure of a lifetime.
Here are just 10 reasons why this year’s trip is going to be awesome.
1You can check out two of America’s important boundary lines.
The first is the Mason-Dixon Line—surveyed by Charles Mason and Jeremiah Dixon between 1763 and 1767. In addition to settling a long-standing Pennsylvania vs. Maryland colonial boundary dispute, the line represented freedom for tens of thousands of people escaping slavery in the south in the first half of the 1800s.
The second is the Eastern Continental Divide (ECD) (which began forming hundreds of millions of years ago), a ridge line that runs from Pennsylvania to Florida and demarcates the Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic Seaboard watersheds of the Atlantic Ocean. In the 1700s, the ECD also represented the boundary between British and French colonial possessions.
2You’ll (gradually) descend a nicely shaded 1,600 vertical feet.
The bike ride begins at Meyersdale, just west of the Eastern Continental Divide (an elevation of about 2,300 feet above sea level). It terminates just west of Pittsburgh (an elevation of about 700 feet). But don’t worry, there are lots of opportunities for some great ups and downs in between! Also, both trails—the GAP and the Montour Trail—have wonderful tree canopies that provide lots of shade for trail users, even on very hot summer days!
3You can also view the highest mountain in Pennsylvania.
Just a short road trip from the GAP sits Mount Davis, the summit of 30-mile-long Negro Mountain, which extends from Deep Creek Lake in Maryland north to the Casselman River in Pennsylvania. With an elevation of 3,213 feet, Mount Davis is the highest peak in the Keystone State. The peak’s namesake is John N. Davis, a Civil War veteran, surveyor, naturalist and farmer who owned the land on the summit. The best views of the landscape—which includes mountains and a set of wind turbines at a nearby wind farm—can be seen from an observation tower constructed in 1935.
4You have a chance to see a Frank Lloyd Wright masterpiece.
First, there’s Fallingwater. This magnificent homestead in Mill Run, Pennsylvania, is a “site” to see. Completed in 1939 by Frank Lloyd Wright for the Kaufmann family (of department store fame), the National Historic Landmark stretches out over a 30-foot waterfall.
Or there’s Kentuck Knob—also a National Historic Landmark—which was built for the Hagan family after they purchased 80 acres in the mountains above Uniontown in 1953 (their families had lived there for generations). It was one of the last homes completed by Wright.
5You’ll ride in the footsteps (literally) of one of America’s greatest founding fathers.
Among George Washington’s various activities in Maryland and Pennsylvania …
According to “An Uncommon Passage: Traveling through History on the Great Allegheny Passage Trail” by Edward K. Muller and Paul G. Wiegman … during the Seven Years’ War (1756-1763), George Washington—then lieutenant colonel/deputy commander of England’s Virginia Regiment—helped clear what became known as Braddock’s Road, a route over difficult terrain connecting Fort Cumberland in Maryland to the Ohio River in present-day Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania (to attempt to defeat the French at Fort Duquesne). The GAP passes through parts of Washington’s trajectories.
6The GAP runs past the sites of two of America’s most notorious labor battles.
These are: 1) the “Battle of Buena Vista,” a bloody gun battle between striking coal miners and imported strikebreakers of the Armstrong Coal Works, which occurred in Elizabeth Township, Pennsylvania, on Nov. 29, 1874; and 2) the infamous incident during the Homestead Strike of 1892, in which thousands of striking steelworkers (plus families, supporters, etc.) from the Carnegie Steel Co. confronted 300 Pinkerton guards at the now “Historic Pump House.” This year's sojourn will pass by the first site!
7You can experience a legendary whitewater destination.
The Youghiogheny River—which cascades over an 18-foot waterfall—is a well-known lure for whitewater thrill seekers. And did you know that in 1754, George Washington was actually deterred by the rapids? Sent on a mission to protect settlers near present-day Pittsburgh, Washington was looking for a navigable river route west. When he saw the cascade and wild rapids—he decided to keep looking!
Luckily for sojourners, there are two options for those interested in rafting: a Class III rafting trip on the Lower Yough, and a Class I-II rafting trip on the Middle Yough for those who want an easier experience.
8There are some pretty awesome bridges.
These include the GAP’s 101-foot-high Salisbury Viaduct near Meyersdale in Somerset County and the Pinkerton High Bridge over the Casselman River. And then there’s the Montour Trail with the Chartiers Creek High Bridge (beautiful vistas) and the 1,000-foot-long McDonald Viaduct. With a span of nearly 1,000 feet, the McDonald Viaduct is massive and the Montour Trail’s longest bridge. Less than 100 feet below, the 29-mile Panhandle Trail stretches out beneath you. A trail junction allows you to connect to the scenic, 29-mile rail-trail and head west into neighboring West Virginia.
9There are some pretty awesome tunnels, too.
Along the GAP you’ll find the 3,294.6-foot-long Big Savage Tunnel—the longest tunnel on the Trail. You’ll also find the Pinkerton Tunnel, an 849-foot railway tunnel in Markleton. The 130-year-old restored tunnel, which opened to riders just last year, is now part of an extraordinary Casselman River “bridge-tunnel-bridge” experience (it’s located between the Pinkerton Low and High Bridges).
Tunnel highlights along the Montour Trail include: the Greer Tunnel, which is bookended by two bridges; the 575-foot Enlow tunnel with its tall, arched portal and emerald backdrop; and the curved (lighted) National Tunnel—the longest of the Montour tunnels—at 632 feet.
10You’ll also ride through tunnels made of trees.
(Yes, trees.) On the stretch of the GAP between Ohiopyle and Confluence, you’ll pedal through magical-looking green “tunnels” made of interwoven tree branches. After the Western Maryland Railroad ceased operations along that segment, trees grew up on both sides of the right-of-way. The tree branches arched and grew together to form a thick canopy over the abandoned rail line.