If you find yourself in Allegany or Olean, New York, with a half hour to spare, this loop trail makes for a very enjoyable bike ride. Better yet, strap on your inline skates and do a lap or two with the other skaters, bicyclists, walkers, baby-jogger parents and training-wheel children who flock to this pleasant trail.
Where a typical rail bed is stick straight, this 5.6-mile circular route winds and dips along a river valley. Its rail-trail designation comes from the active railroad that runs adjacent to the corridor for a short distance on the north side. There are 115 such rail-with-trail facilities in the nation.
The southern half of the trail is on the Allegheny River, and the rest of the loop has many access points in the small communities of Allegany and Olean. Starting near the tennis courts of St. Bonaventure University and heading west brings you to the river quickly. The trail circles the school, making it popular with students who use it for recreation. A leafy tree canopy cools off summer days and in winter lets in warming sunshine. At the first bend, the trail descends a little and the river comes into view. Oaks, maples, ash and cherry trees enclose the trail. In first 2 miles a few well-designed small bridges carry you over small tributaries to the river, and the trail becomes slightly wider. Another slight descent, followed by a curve at 1.5 miles, warrants the trail's 15 miles-per-hour speed limit. Watch for oncoming traffic.
At 2 miles the river widens and you reach Gargoyle Park, with parking, swings and plenty of room for children to run around, especially if they've been in a buggy or bike seat. Large shagbark hickory treeswith distinctive gray shaggy barkdominate the park grounds. Soon after the park, the trail crosses a small stream on another bridge.
When you reach the levee restraining the Allegheny River, you have gone 3 miles. Although it's unpaved, the levee is used as a bike and running path, adding more miles to the local trail system. Soon after the levee you enter a residential area and cross a few streets, including West State Street (Route 417). Use caution on this long, busy road crossing. The corridor soon widens and is shared with telephone lines and underground gas lines. After crossing Constitution Avenue, the trail passes several shops, including an ice cream stand popular with students.
The Olean rail yard, at 4 miles, marks where the trail parallels freight train tracks for 0.25 mile. The rail yard inspired Joe Higgins, a local resident credited with dreaming up the trail. As Higgins visited rail-trails in Rhode Island, Vermont and California, his idea for the circular rail-with-trail took shape. He helped negotiate a lease agreement among the communities, landowners and New York Department of Transportation, which provided funding for the trail.
In front of the university the trail crosses back over Route 417, turns right, continues for another 0.5 mile along the road or sidewalk and reaches the tennis court parking lot, where you can wind down your adventure. If you still have energy, take another lap on this excellent trail.
Parking and Trail Access
To reach St. Bonaventure University from Allegheny: From I-86 take Exit 24; turn south on Five Mile Road and then immediately left onto Route 417. Proceed a little more than 1 mile until you cross a railroad overpass and see St. Bonaventure University on your right. Make the first right into the campus and another immediate right. Before you cross the railroad tracks again, turn left on an unmarked uphill street. After 50 yards you will see the trailhead and parking lot on your right before the tennis courts.