The story of the Ligonier Valley Trail is one that I’ve followed for the last few years in Ligonier. And it’s a story that I’ve enjoyed writing about because it’s such a positive story, with some interesting history behind it. If you plan to spend any time in Ligonier, please stop by the trail and see the results of a lot of hard work, dedication and passion from dedicated community members and groups.
If you plan to be there TOMORROW (Saturday, April 27), you should try and attend the official ribbon cutting for the new bridge that extends the trail over Mill Creek. The ceremony is scheduled for 9:30a.m. I hope to be there!
A hiking and biking trail in Ligonier has been in the works by the Ligonier Township Recreation Board for the past ten years, if not longer. The trail originally started as part of a Rails to Trails initiative designed to re-purpose former railroad lines into walking trails. Phase One of the Ligonier Valley Trail opened in October 2010 and runs about a half-mile on the former Ligonier Valley Rail Road rail bed behind Weller Field from Peoples Road south to Mill Creek.
The rail bed used for the Phase One portion was an extension of the original Ligonier Valley Rail Road line, which spanned approximately 10 miles between Ligonier and Latrobe and served the region with passenger and freight traffic for 75 years until its final run on August 31, 1952. A six-mile extension was added so the railroad could reach the coal fields north of Ligonier, which were part of the Pittsburgh Seam of coal famously used to produce coke and, subsequently, steel.
How cool is it that pedestrians and bicyclists can now walk where trains brought people, coal and coke from the Fort Palmer and Wilpen communities into the town and beyond a hundred years ago? Not only is the new trail meant to provide recreation to the community but when extended beyond the the creek it will also afford them an alternate way to travel between the borough and township instead of using the main highway, State Route 711.
After Phase One was complete, the Ligonier Valley Trail Committee imagined further possibilities with the trail, all of which required producing a feasibility study that would plot the future course of the trail, securing easements from property owners, working with the borough and outside groups, securing volunteers to help work on the trail and generating funding.
But the first obstacle the committee faced was building a new 90-foot-long bridge to expand the trail south over Mill Creek. All that was left of the former railroad bridge was the abutments flanking both sides of the creek. After an eleventh-hour push for donations to secure a matching grant for the project, followed by a nerve-wracking search for construction bids within the budget last year, the committee was able to purchase the new steel Pratt truss-design bridge and connecting ramp, which were both installed earlier this month.
Now that the bridge will enable the trail to stretch south into Ligonier Borough, the committee sees the route generally winding through town near major facilities and attractions and continuing west along the Lincoln Highway to the intersection of Route 259 near Idlewild Park. Hopefully the Ligonier Valley Trail will help to draw more business to the area from visitors using it to explore the area and also give residents another recreational amenity.
For more information, see my past Latrobe Bulletin articles for some additional background on the trail, the Phase Two feasibility study, the committee’s efforts to secure the bridge and future plans!
Many people from the Ligonier community have been instrumental in realizing the trail project, including the Ligonier Valley Trail Committee, Ligonier Township, Ligonier Borough and the Loyalhanna Watershed Association, not to mention the volunteers who have worked to clean and prepare the trail, as well as those who have contributed financially. I have to specifically mention Rose Stepnick, trail project manager, who has been extremely dedicated to the project throughout its duration and who has helped me greatly with my trail articles! Thank you Rose!