By Nate Pearson
The Great Allegheny Passage is a tremendous system of bike trails linking the cities of Pittsburgh and the Washington DC region. The trails currently span over 150 miles and have earned the nickname “Rails to Trails” due to the fact that they quite literally sit on the old railway lines that fueled the industry that built the region. Thus as visitors travel down the trails, biking, running, walking, even skiing, they are doing so back through history.The creators of the trail have done a great job of achieving this through the use of signage and the preservation of many historic buildings along the route.
The trail follows the entire history of the region, from its Native American roots, through the vital role it played in the French and Indian War, to the early industrial period of the flatboats and steamboats, to the major industrial age that made Pittsburgh famous, to importance of the area’s natural and industrial resources in WWII, and finishes up nicely showing off how, in recent times the region has dealt with its literally polluted past to become a very clean and green area.
Along the trail you pass through many historic areas from the times aforementioned. Starting in Pittsburgh you pass through city’s famous Point State Park, former site of Fort Pitt which gave the city its name and current home to the fort Pitt Museum which is in and of itself a tremendous historic site. The Fort Pitt Museum is part of the Senator John Heinz History Center and focuses exclusively on the area’s Native American History and its role in the French and Indian War. It is well worth a visit. All throughout Pittsburgh visitors learn through monuments, plaques and signs about the city’s industrial history all the while taking in the city’s natural beauty and seeing how it has become a clean modern city. Traveling east you then travel through the important coalfields of western Pennsylvania while passing many historic structures including, an old post office, Victorian houses, many old furnaces and other significant coal and steel related structures most with signage explaining their importance.
The trail also shows off many interesting geological features of the region. Shortly before crossing into Maryland the trail cross many historic feats of engineering including tunnels and viaducts. Then as you cross into Maryland you cross the famous Mason-Dixon Line. The trail ends on the Maryland side at the C&O Canal and the site of Fort Cumberland.
The first section of the trail was completed in 1986 along the Youghiogheny River. In 1998 Pennsylvania Governor Tom Ridge approved six million dollars for the project. Currently the trail spans over 150 miles past many significant historic and natural landmarks. It is a great way to get both local residents and visitors to the area both out in nature and learning about the region’s history.