KITTANNING – This past year was a busy one for the Armstrong Trail, and 2019 could prove to be one of the most pivotal years in the trail’s history.
Allegheny Valley Land Trust Executive Director Chris Ziegler, who started in her position with the local trail last year, recently sat down to discuss all the accomplishments along the trail in 2018, and to look ahead to major efforts involving the Brady Tunnel at Phillipston in 2019.
“We’ve done a lot of things this past year,” Ziegler said, noting that the trail organization closed out six projects through the state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources.
She said the projects included a ramp project in the Manorville area, completion of the Climax Tunnel on the Redbank Trail, a feasibility study for the upcoming Brady Tunnel project, improvements in the Templeton area, a storm water and surface project in the Mosgrove area, and work on five miles of trail plus parking lots in the Phillipston and Rimer areas.
Not content to stop there, Ziegler said the trail group learned in November that it was awarded a $663,000 grant that will be used for engineering and design for the first phase of the Brady Tunnel project, which will include the stabilization of the northern end of the tunnel.
“We’re working with Clarion County on that project,” Ziegler said, noting that she hopes construction can begin in May.
She said an agreement was also reached by the end of 2018 relating to emergency access to portions of the trail in the Rimer area of Madison Township (Armstrong County), which has been a longtime concern for residents and officials in that area.
Ziegler said an emergency use agreement was signed recently with Madison Township, giving township supervisors access to portions of the trail during high-water emergencies.
“There’s a process when there is a high water emergency,” Ziegler said. “We just want people to be safe.”
And speaking of high waters, Ziegler said that even with all the record amount of rainfall in the area during 2018, the Armstrong Trail area fared well, with no slides reported. She said that the ice storms in November also bypassed most of the Armstrong Trail area, but hit the Redbank Trail particularly hard.
The wet terrain, however, did present challenges as it made it much harder for trail crews to take machinery out onto the soggy trail for maintenance and other projects.
With one busy year down, Ziegler said the focus is now on the new year, which also promises to be packed with trail work.
The Brady Tunnel will be the main focus, she said.
“We’re using our experience from the Climax Tunnel project, and we have a lot of things in our favor with the Brady Tunnel,” she said.
The main challenges for the Brady Tunnel project will be the first 700 feet on the north portal, and the first 400 feet into the tunnel on the south side. She said that while those areas will need to be lined, the remainder of the 2,468-foot tunnel is in remarkably good shape for a structure of its age that hasn’t been used in decades.
Ziegler said the trail group is poised to go after a number of grants for the tunnel work, which is estimated to cost in the range of $6 million to $7 million total. She said that the group already has matching money on hand for the 2019 round of grants.
“We’re just going after any type of funding we can find,” she said, noting that by attempting to do much of the work in one progression, costs can be saved by keeping the contractor on site. “This is a unique funding strategy.”
Ziegler said that in a perfect world, she would like to see much of the tunnel work done by the end of 2020, which would then open up the five additional miles of the trail north of the tunnel.
Also in 2019, Ziegler said work will be done on the trail in the Templeton and Rimer areas. A northern ramp will be stabled in Templeton, eliminating a road route in that area. Trail surface work and parking will be part of the Rimer project, with work expected to begin this summer.
Plans also include rehabilitation to the Crooked Creek Bridge. Ziegler said volunteers will be used to complete the project, and donations are being sought for new bridge decking. The bridge was deemed unsafe and closed last year.
Another goal for 2019 is to develop better signage along the length of the trail. Ziegler said that despite all the work and improvements to the trail over the years, many local residents and visitors alike still have trouble finding the trail and places where they can park.
“We have a busy year ahead of us,” Ziegler said.