KITTANNING – Armstrong Trails, in partnership with the County of Armstrong, recently obtained funding to acquire a 14-mile rail corridor and bridge from the Kiski Junction Railroad that will likely spark positive economic impacts for area trail towns.

Armstrong Trails, a rails-to-trails project, will extend its 36-miles of trail to 50.5 miles.

“The County Board of Commissioners are happy to assist Armstrong Trails in acquisition of this corridor, which is critical to Pennsylvania’s trail network,” said commissioner Don Myers. “There is real potential here for the creation of jobs as well as a likely increase in labor income and tax revenue. The additional link in the trail also adds a new level of marketing for attracting people to Armstrong County.”

“We can also expect to see an increase in dollars spent locally because of the anticipated growth in local tourism, specifically within the county’s boroughs of Freeport, Ford City, Kittanning and even Leechburg,” added commissioner Jason Renshaw.

Funding for acquisition was made possible by the Southwestern Pennsylvania Commission, of which commissioner Pat Fabian serves as vice chairman.

“The SPC is a great organization,” Fabian said. “They are very supportive of the needs of Armstrong County. I believe the partnerships we have built with the other counties that are part of the SPC made it possible to get support for the funding of this acquisition.”

This new connection is currently not open to the public. However, when it does finally become open, it will be a crucial link because there is no other safe non-motorized route in the area to get on and off the trail or to gain access from Ford City to Freeport and Leechburg.

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Closing the connection gap will also translate into an increase in trail traffic — which means more dollars spent in the area’s river and trail communities. Creating this link is integral to local trail connections, officials said. They include Armstrong Trails to Tredway, Baker, Rachel Carson, Rough Diamond Century, Roaring Run, Three Rivers Heritage and Butler Freeport Community Trails — which are part of larger trail systems such as the Erie to Pittsburgh Trail (270 miles), Pittsburgh to Harrisburg Mainline Greenway Canal (320 miles), and the multi-state Industrial Heartlands Trail (1,500 miles).

This new section of trail is a little less than 29 miles from Pittsburgh. It follows the eastern bank of the Allegheny River from the Kiski Bridge across the Kiskiminetas River to Crooked Creek. It includes a four-mile spur from Schenley to Bagdad in Gilpin Township.

“Armstrong Trails is excited to carry its mission further by protecting and converting railroad corridors into trails for public use, thereby providing opportunities for commuters and outdoor recreational activities,” said Armstrong Trails executive director Chris Ziegler.

“The acquisition is a giant leap forward in connecting people to places, promoting health and wellness, and growing our communities,” Ziegler said, adding, “We are hoping this project will help smaller trail projects gain steam and spur other trail connections.”

New trail connections provide opportunities for local towns to become Outdoor Towns. Outdoor Towns are places that bring people together through nature. They provide easy access to recreational opportunities in nearby parks, trails and rivers, while also providing people with access to nearby places where they can eat, stay and shop.

In a recent Great Allegheny Passage (GAP) report, Trail Zones, which are areas less than five miles from a trail, and Trail Regions, which are the counties in which the trail travels, saw a $121 million impact in three big categories: food and accommodations; retail; and recreation and transportation. The Trail Towns along the GAP have transitioned from boom-to-bust towns back to boomtowns — all while improving health and quality of life within walkable, bikeable communities.

Funding for the acquisition was made possible through federal transportation funds.

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