National Geographic has just confirmed what many of us in Western Pennsylvania already knew—it is one of the most beautiful places in the world to visit in the fall.
The GAP is the 141-mile rail trail from Pittsburgh to Cumberland, MD that traverses miles of beautiful scenery in our area, including four of our own HeritagePA sites—Allegheny Ridge Heritage Area, Lincoln Highway Heritage Corridor, National Road Heritage Corridor and Rivers of Steel National Heritage Area.
To make the news even timelier, the ground-breaking ceremony for the last mile of uncompleted trail section, running through Sandcastle Waterpark and Keystone Metals, was held beneath the Glenwood Bridge at noon Friday.
Once finished, this last section of the trail will complete the GAP which joins the C&O Towpath in Cumberland to link Pittsburgh to Washington, D.C. It is estimated this vital piece of the trail will be completed by April 15, 2013.
But back to the fall foliage and the GAP—many miles of old, no-longer-used railways were converted to trails for bikers, hikers and runners to enjoy. Motorized vehicles are prohibited from these trails, so users can travel safely at their own pace.
As the National Geographic article states, visitors can spend a day, weekend or week enjoying the trail and stopping at the interesting, small towns along the way.
"There is nothing more amazing than the fall colors of the Laurel Highlands and Pittsburgh's Countryside," said Donna Holdorf, executive director for the National Road Heritage Corridor.
"Pedaling the GAP at this time of year will immerse riders in Mother Nature's gift to our senses."
Visitors shouldn't limit themselves to the trail, Holdorf added.
"Make a stop in any one of the trail towns and villages along the way and explore the PA Heritage Area's historic and cultural sites, enjoy our local eateries and specialty shops and get a taste of the season's specialties by catching a stack of warm buckwheat pancakes," she said.
My husband and I are frequent bikers and hikers of the trail—although we've yet to do the whole ride, which is on our bucket list—and we can never get enough of the scenery in Western PA.
While the region is beautiful any time of year, fall is undeniably our favorite time to take a day ride. One of the best aspects of the trail is that we can ride side-by-side, something we can’t often do on other trails because of auto traffic or width of the trail. The rail trails are perfect for multi-biker groups.
As if the scenery isn’t enough reason to hop on the trails, the towns along the trail offer great food and historical and cultural finds. Plus, they are good for our economy—always a plus.
“Trail statistics support the fact that bike trails are great for businesses in the cities and towns they are located. With the Great Allegheny Passage opening up through the Pittsburgh region last summer, we've seen the number of vehicles at The Historic Pump House & Water Tower trailhead quadruple,” said Sherris Moreira, director of marketing & tourism, for the Rivers of Steel National Heritage Area.
The Historic Pump House & Water Tower, operated by Rivers of Steel, is located in the Munhall/Homestead area, near the site of the ground-breaking ceremony held Friday.
"We've also recently developed a steel heritage bike tour on the recently opened part of the Great Allegheny Passage, and we're at a point where we need to hire and train more bike guides because the demand is growing. It's a great way to combine history with green-friendly current trends," she said.
There are numerous bike-rental shops in proximity to the trail for those who don’t have bikes, and of course, you can hike or jog along the trails as well.
Several of our friends have done over-night trips and stayed at the B &B’s that line the trail and welcome bikers. As Holdorf said, food tastes especially good after riding and you can justify those pancakes since you just peddled several miles.
Whether you are there for the exercise, scenery, history or just plain fun, my husband and I completely agree with National Geographic—riding along the GAP is one of the most beautiful places in the world, especially in the fall.