RR Artifacts - Heshbon to Dilltown 3-17-2013
1.5 miles east of the Heshbon Trailhead, on PA-259, we arrive at the 1903-post WW2 mining ghost town of Claghorn. Its 3 arch 1917 concrete bridge still connects the town side on the south side of Black Lick Creek to the railroad on the north side. A very detailed historic plaque provides much information about this once substantial mining town. The PA-56 highway overpass is located at Trail Mile 9.7. Two railroad bridges were wiped out, I would guess in the Johnstown Flood of 1977, at the ends of the river loop between Trail MP 11.6 and 12.2. In 2009, two new pedestrian bridges were completed to close this trail section on this loop. At the west end, the single-span Scott Glenn Pedestrian Bridge was built on the two stone piers of ex-PRR Bridge 30.79 (Those PRR railroad mileage markers remain painted on both the east and west upper coarse pier stones). At the east end, a 3-span Armerford Pedestrian Bridge was built on additions to the tops of the four stone piers of the ex-Pennsy bridge. Both bridges are of 5-ton weight limit corten steel construction, very attractive spans. Between the two spans, this 1977 flood abandonment railroad segment was obviously the salvation of intact rusty classic PRR cast iron mile marker 31, one of very few of these survivors on this trail. It is located at Trail Milepost 12.4, north side, as was customary on Pennsylvania Railroad lines systemwide. The other post flood survivor is located at Trail Milepost 12.4. The also rusty, point-topped cast iron whistlepost for the PA-271 Dilltown grade crossing survives in the "No stopping or Loitering 1500 foot" semi-private trail entry way into the Dilltown Trailhead, at Trail MP 12.4. A very unique, solar-powered, traffic-activated PA-271 trailhead crossing flasher guards the trail road crossing at Dilltown. -Rich Ballash, Latrobe, PA.
Rail Artifacts - Black Lick to Heshbon 3-11-2013
We begin our ferroquinological tour of this trail at Milepost 0, adjacent to Saylor Park in Black Lick, PA. Extending from MP 0.2 at the east end of the thru-girder Black Lick Creek crossing, note the extensive half mile of railroad scrap, highlighted by the ex-Conrail (#CR472579 - Rebuilt 3-31-1988) gondolas, turned on their sides. The junction of the PRR coming up from Blairsville, and the old Buffalo, Rochester, & Pittsburgh (later B&O) coming down from Punxsatawney, is obvious at MP 0.5. From this point east, the BR&P used trackage rights over the PRR to get to its assets over at Vintondale, a "union railroad" of sorts. You can track this line around Saylor Park, from where I located classic BR&P Milepost 33, in my Hoodlebug Trail report. The line's girder bridge over Old Indiana Road is located just north of Saylor Park. At the junction, as near MP 33, the grade is barricaded off with a big pile of large railroad ties. Note the in-place lines of BR&P track ties at the junction. I was really excited by the wonderful historical plaque at the old Indiana County Street Railways concrete abutments at MP 0.8. Here was a 700-foot long steel bridge over the PRR/B&O and Black Lick Creek. Built in 1909, the span was part of the 1907-33 trolley system which connected Ernest, Clymer, and Blairsville to Indiana, PA (Also see my Hoodlebug reports for more of these artifacts). This thing was HIGH, and its southern end boasted a curved, wooden trestle to turn the track into today's TROLLEY LANE in Black Lick (DO go see that little street, too!) A photograph on the plaque shows the viaduct, which riders compared to riding on a roller coaster! Now that's COOL! Milepost 1 is the first of a splendid string of brand new Ghost Town Trail mile markers. Beautiful dark wood with a recessed-in metal depiction of a white ghost over a red bicycle... Very attractive! The westward direction marks mileages from Ebensburg. The last, but very significant railroad artifact is classic, cast iron Pennsylvania Railroad Mile Marker 37, which found salvation by hiding behind a tree on the north side of the trail, at Trail MP 5.7, 0.5 miles east of the Heshbon Trailhead. This rare survivor marked railroad mileage from Pennsy's little "EP" Block Station, at this line's eastern terminus, just north of Cresson. (PRR Marker 41 was still there, leaning over against the northern mudbank, when I first rode this trail in 2007, but it appears to be gone now) These classic white top / black bottom mileposts were ubiquitous to the PRR, at every milepoint, from New York City to Chicago and Saint Louis. One final note... This is a steady and stiff 6.5 mile climb from Black Lick to Heshbon, and was and still is quite an impressive and scenic whitewater following railroad course. -Rich Ballash, Latrobe, PA 3-11-2013.
Ghost Town Trail
I, my wife, and two kids just biked a good portion of this trail this past weekend. We started in Dilltown where we stayed at the Dillweed Bed and Breakfast. On Saturday, we travelled from Dilltown towards Black Lick. It took us about 4-5 hours to do a roundtrip to Black Lick, and this included stopping for lunch. The trail follows the Black Lick Creek, and is very easy. The only problem we experienced was the slight grade on the way back to Dilltown. It was very slight, but noticeable. Along the way, there were remnants of the structures that were used for the railroad. On Sunday, we travelled about 14 miles roundtrip from Dilltown to Vintondale. While my wife liked the Black Lick branch more, my kids enjoyed stopping in Vintondale to look at the Eliza Furnace and Vintondale Art Park. For the most part, this trail is shaded, which is a welcome relief from the sun and rain. For those wanting to stay on the trail, we highly recommend staying at the Dillweed. The family (and staff) that owns it was extremely friendly, the breakfast very hearty, and the accomodations spacious and very clean. Since there were four of us, we stayed in the Garden Suite, which is on the third floor. It has a large bathroom, double bed, twin, and a couch and TV with DVDs. It also has a kitchen. Even if you do not stay here, there is a small cafe and store. This was a great trip, and we can't wait to do more like this!
Not too many ghosts, but haunting nonetheless
This is an amazing trail. Like many trails in Pennsylvania and Maryland, it is rich with history. I would like to explain our previous experience for the sake of understanding how it fits in.
We have been on the Great Allegheny Passage from the continental divide to Cumberland. For me, the unforgettable highlight was the the Big Savage tunnel, with its unending interior and its magnificent ending view. We have been on the York Trail, and I will not forget standing on the train platform where Abraham Lincoln awaited the train to Gettysburg. We have been to the Lehigh Gorge, where the trail is pure rich scenery, but the terminal town of Jim Thorpe is pure rich history. Unforgettable highlight?--the gallows where the Molly Maguires were hung, and the jail that contained them.
These are all trips taken since my daughter was old enough to ride a trail-a-bike, in December 2009. Needless to say, I am just so happy that Rail-Trails exist, and create such great experiences.
So what about our experience on this trail.
We rode the trail from Ebensburg to Saylor Park/Blacklick in the course of two July days of 16 miles each. The midway point is Wehrum. We were two families, with two five year olds tagging along, and so we could self shuttle, and make the trip entirely "downhill."
I am very haunted by the things I saw, and think this trail must be extremely unique in the rail trail system. Just for example, one vivid memory is the sign that says that there are 300 different sources of coal mining pollution that are dumping into Blacklick Creek and its drainage. A biker will see plenty of slag heaps that leach poison into the stream. And will also see orange creek beds, with water coming from slag heaps out of sight.
What is most stunning to me is that this damage is 100 years old, or so. The damage is not going away soon, folks. The whole trip could be a reminder to the consequences of not thinking about the world our children and grandchildren live in.
Near the middle of the trail is Vintondale. This is a place where humanity and hope breathed deep and said, "We can start to undo this damage." There is a park there that is also an attempt to mitigate Acid Mine Drainage (it is referred to as AMD repeatedly, so remember this acronym). There are settling ponds, to get the iron red and the toxic aluminum out of the water. There are community fields for sport, and a pavilion. And a very quiet, very elegant memorial. The first part of the memorial that you see is next to the trail. It is a large mosaic map showing how the scene before you looked in coal mining days. A busy place, with hundreds of workers instead of settling ponds.
And then the most ghostly experience. There is a mural, etched in black granite, of nine coal miners emerging from the mine shaft, placed against the canyon wall.
We continued downstream. Right after Vintondale, Blacklick Creek turned a dark orange, and the clarity of the stream was lost for a while. I suspect that a major, polluted tributary had entered there.
Beyond these stark reminders of our history, I think the highlights were the two iron furnaces along the way. I particularly liked the explanation of the furnace workings at Eliza Furnace. These from an earlier era than the coal mines, and the damage to the earth is less obvious.
I hope I am not scaring people away from a truly outstanding rail-trail. For me, the big story were the lessons about the relation of man to the world. On the other hand, if you are not interested in this, the trail is very well maintained, and a joy unto itself. Other than the human scars, the stream is beautiful as it wends its way down into Blacklick.
Ghost Town Trail Complete
The project involved the installation of two pre-fabricated bridges at the Ghost Town Trail in Indiana County, PA.
Amerford Bridge is 224 feet in length and the Scott Glen Bridge is 125 feet in length. The bridges are named for two former mining towns once located along the trail. With the completion of the bridges and the construction of 6,000 feet of trail connecting them, trail users now have a continuous trail from Saylor Park (Black Lick, PA) to Ebensburg, a distance of 34 miles.
For more information about the Ghost Town Trail, visit Indiana County Parks & Trails (http://www.indianacountyparks.org/trails/gtt/gtt.html).
Funding for this project came from the PA DCNR, PennDOT, and the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy.
Indiana County Parks & Trails
1128 Blue Spruce Rd.
Indiana, PA 15701
"Sun. Sept. 3, 2007"
"Did a Labor Day weekend trip on the Ghost Town Trail yesterday, and it was a very nice ride. We parked at the Dilltown parking lot, which was nice with a big field for the kids to run around in, covered picnic pavillion, and public bathrooms. We went East from there to the Rexis/Vintonville Split at around 5 miles. There's a parking lot at the split. This first part of the trail was very flat and follows the Black Lick Creek, and there were some nice historical markers and a few places where the trees were cut back to provide a view of the creek. The piles of mine waste along the North side of the trail, while historically significant, were sort of ugly, if you ask me.
The section from the split northward to Red Mill (2.4 miles according to the sign at the split) was gently uphill the whole way. Probably a 1-2% grade. It was mostly through wooded areas, but passed a few homes to the West. We arrived at Red Mill, which had a nice historical marker about the grist mill that is no longer there. There's an old bridge that's worth seeing there, and a rental cabin about 500m from the trail that looked like it's be a nice place to spend the weekend with friends. The trail continued on Northward from Red Mill, but there was a pile of crushed limestone in the middle of the trail and it looked like that part wasn't as well maintained. We had left a car at the small parking lot in Red Mill (no facilities) and headed back to Dilltown. The whole ride took about an hour and a half.
To end the day on a high note, we drove 15 minutes south on 403 into Johnstown, took the inclined plane up the mountain and had a nice dinner overlooking the city at City View Bar and Grill. It was good- we sat outside on the balcony."
"Ebensburg-Nanty Glo, and Heshbon section"
"The new section of the trail from Ebensburg to Nanty Glo was opened in the Fall of 2005, along with the section from Black Lick heading East towards Dilltown. Both new sections are very nicely done, especially the section between Ebensburg and Nanty Glo...they put up mileage markers on this section along with an historical sign about the town of Beulah at the Beulah Road bridge about 3 miles West of Ebensburg. These new sections are slightly different from the ""older"" section between Nanty Glo and Dilltown, in that the trailbed is slightly higher than the ground around it due to it's resting on the elevated railroad bed. This gives more of a feel of riding on a railroad line than just a path through the woods. The trail now is a total of 19.5 miles from It's Easternmost end in Ebensburg to the Dilltown trailhead.
The trail from Ebensburg West to Nanty Glo passes the Ebensburg ballfields, goes under a road bridge in Ebensburg, and under the Route 219 bridge at the ""Y"" junction where the CandI trail intersection is, also over bridges at Beulah Road and Blacklick Creek, and finally past a swampy area just East of Nanty Glo. Just across this swamp/wetlands is where the CandI trail will come into Nanty Glo from the East. This section of the trail between Ebensburg and Nanty Glo is very popular on weekends, and and also with people out biking, walking, and jogging after work in the evenings.
The new section from Black Lick heading East towards Dilltown gets used less than the rest of the Ghost Town Trail due partly to it's remoteness, but that will probably change once they finish it with the bridges to link it with Dilltown. This section of the trail has a more rugged feel to the countryside with the trail passing old mining sites, going through several rock cuts the railroad made between the hillside and the river, and through remote wooded areas. Things to see on this section of the trail are mining sites both East and West of Heshbon, a large silo-type building near the Route 56 bridge, the Buena Vista Furnace just off the trail,""the bridge to nowhere"" an old concrete 3-span bridge that crosses the river about 2 miles East of Heshbon, several small bridges crossing the streams under the trail including one just West of Heshbon with acid mine drainage running in the stream, lots of views of the acid mine polluted orange colored Blacklick Creek with some nice overlook-type views, and an old concrete bridge pier in the middle of the creek just East of Black Lick.
The trail ends at it's Western end at the community park in the town of Black Lick. Here there is a park restroom facility, picnic pavillion and basketball court. Also, there is a view of the smokestacks and nuclear-style cooling towers of the nearby Homer City Generating Station. From this park they will be linking the Ghost Town with the Hoodlebug trail; as of now (July 2006) the link isn't finished.
The Ghost Town Trail rises in elevation going from West to East, so Ebensburg is the highest point on the trail. The section between Vintondale to Nanty Glo is the steepest with the grade being probably around 1 1/2-2%, and the rest of the trail being either nearly level to 1% grade. The most used sections of the trail are Dilltown to Vintondale, and Nanty Glo to Ebensburg. There are ""No horses allowed"" signs up along the entire trail, as of 2006."
"Ghost Town Trail is one that I've ridden many times and as a Rail trail it's really nice, the local scenery makes it very unusual though. The trail itself is in very nice condition, with trailhead parking in Nanty Glo and Dilltown, and restroom facilities in Vintondale. There is a nice picnic pavillion and a trailside store in Dilltown that sells refreshments and other merchandise (got myself a ""Ghost Town Trail"" T-shirt there with a ghost riding a bike on it!). The trail has an uphill grade to it between Vintondale and Nanty Glo which is a little more than most of the rail trails I've been on.
The most unusual thing about the Ghost Town Trail is the type of scenery it passes through. There are many areas along the trail where they mine for coal and left behind reminders of this regions ""Coal Country"" history. There are several large areas of mine tailings dumps along the trail where there is no vegetation, just black mounds of mine waste.
Nanty Glo has two large areas of coal mine waste dumps around the town, and the one looks like the aftermath of the Mount Saint Helens explosions with everything black, and the trees dead and pale grey. I took photos of this area for a college photography class, and one of the other students thought my photos were of the volcanic national parks in Hawaii because they both look similar. There is also a large mine tailings dump in Vintondale that looks like the Black Hills region in the Dakotas, because it is a large black sweeping hill with colored striations running though it. There is also a smaller dump just west of Vintondale that is also black, but it has yellow and white crusty streaks coming out of it and smells of sulphur in the summertime (smells like Hell ?). The stream along the trail is unusual too because the stream has been polluted by acid mine drainage and all the streambed and rocks around it are orange, instead of their ""normal"" color. The view of the orange stream and black hill from the bridge just east of Vintondale is interesting. Climb to the top of the mound of tailings in Vintondale and you'll have a good view of the town and the trail going through the valley. Near Twin Rocks there is a cut in the hill that the trail goes through that exposes a coal seam on both sides of the trail, with lumps of coal laying around the trailsides. It's perfect for picking out Christmas presents for those kids on Santa's ""naughty"" list."