SARAH FURNACE – Proclaiming hope for the future and a celebration of the past, several local and state officials joined hiking and biking enthusiasts Monday morning for a groundbreaking ceremony kicking off the start of the Brady Tunnel renovation project.
Once completed, the Brady Tunnel renovation project, which is spearheaded by the Allegheny Valley Land Trust (AVLT), will close a major gap in the proposed Erie to Pittsburgh Trail and is expected to have major recreational and economic impacts on the region.
“This project helps our department meet its goal of having a trail within 15 minutes of every citizen by closing the openings in Pennsylvania’s current trail system,” state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources secretary Cindy Adams Dunn said in her opening statements Monday morning at the project site near Sarah Furnace.
According to Dunn, recreation is identified as a top priority in recent surveys regarding the needs of the state.
“In the last statewide rec plan, trails came up as the top thing people think the government should spend money on,” she said. “When we invest in trails, we feel very confident that we are doing what Pennsylvanians asked us to do.”
In addition to the recreational benefit, Dunn also highlighted the economic boost that accompanies the creation and renovation of trails.
“The Great Allegheny Passage alone brought about $40 million a year into the towns along the trail,” Dunn said. “It generates a lot of local economy.”
Clarion County Commissioner Ted Tharan not only shared Dunn’s optimism regarding the economic boost the area could see with the tunnel’s completion, but also mentioned the importance of restoring the past.
“If we don’t protect what was given to us, the next generations will have nothing,” Tharan said. “We need to show future generations just how hard our ancestors worked.”
Tharan said the restoration of the Brady Tunnel will accomplish this connection to the past. He closed his remarks by thanking everyone who is participating in the project.
“It will bring great things; it will bring the future to Clarion County,” he said. “That’s why we protect our past.”
Although the tunnel renovation will take place in Clarion County, Armstrong County Commissioner Pat Fabian said that the outcome of the project would impact Armstrong County as well.
“It’s important for neighboring counties that a project like this gets funded and completed,” Fabian said, noting that the project is an important step toward the goal of completing the Erie to Pittsburgh Trail. “We are committed to filling those gaps in so we can make that dream happen.”
Well-wishes and support for the project also came from Tina Gibbs on behalf of state Rep. Donna Oberlander and Sen. Scott Hutchinson.
Also attending the ceremony were representatives from Francis J. Palo Inc. — who will be completing the renovation work — Young & Associates, the AVLT Board of Directors, Career Track, the Armstrong Rails to Trails Association and the Armstrong Conservation District, as well as Clarion County Commissioners Wayne Brosius and Ed Heasley and Armstrong County Commissioner Jason Renshaw.
According to a press release issued by DCNR, the connection of the 5.5 miles of the Armstrong Trail from the southern portal of the Brady Tunnel to the end of the AVLT property will require between $6.9 and $10.4 million to stabilize and rehabilitate the tunnel.
Owner of both the Armstrong and nearby Redbank Valley Trails, the release continues, the AVLT maintains the integrity of the inactive railroad corridor in accordance with the National Trail Act and the Pennsylvania Rails to Trails Act. AVLT purchased and railbanked the corridors on which the Armstrong Trail and Redbank Valley Trail exist.
“Over the past seven years, DCNR has invested $773,400 in grant funds to facilitate renovations and help close what it sees as a vital Armstrong Trail gap in a proposed trail system that would eventually stretch from Erie to Pittsburgh,” the release states.
“The Brady Tunnel project creates opportunities for economic growth, health and wellness, power in partnerships, time with out friends and family, and a celebration of our roots,” Allegheny Valley Land Trust executive director Chris Ziegler added. “You cannot create any of these things without a solid foundation.”