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Built in 1871 to transport the region’s high-quality limestone to support Pittsburgh’s growing steel industry, the Butler Branch of the Pennsylvania Railroad was the first railroad in Butler County. After a two-day celebration of the opening, the railroad conducted a mock funeral for the stagecoach that ran between the two towns. A branch of the Western Pennsylvania Railroad, the line became part of the Pennsylvania Railroad system in 1903 and discontinued service in 1987. After a volunteer effort organized by the local community, the Butler Freeport Community Trail officially opened in 1992 and was formally completed in 2015. The all-volunteer Butler -Freeport Community Trail Council manages and maintains the trail, which is owned by Buffalo Township.
Located about 30 minutes northeast of Pittsburgh, the trail is nestled in the scenic wooded valley that follows Little Buffalo Creek to Buffalo Creek and on to the Allegheny River at Freeport. The surface of the trail comprises mostly crushed stone, with about a mile of asphalt south of the Monroe trailhead and the Buffalo Township Municipal Authority. Mile and 0.5-mile markers line the trail, and restroom facilities along the trail are open seasonally, May–October. Cross-country skiing is permitted—as is horseback riding in designated areas during dry weather (see the Facebook page for updates).
Keen observers will spot old stone foundations and the remainders of brick kilns, and small dams and waterfalls also appear along the route.
The path begins on the east side of the town of Butler on Kaufman Drive, where a large sign greets trail users. Just a mile northeast on Main Street, you’ll find restaurants, shops, hotels, and gas stations. Heading south from Butler, you’ll immediately cross over a small bridge as you make your way out of town, with the route on a slight incline for 7 miles to Cabot.
The trail travels southeast along Herman Road for the first couple miles, and then veers left through wooded farmland on the outskirts of Herman. You’ll pass multiple road crossings and then cross over Herman Road on a small overpass. About 5.4 miles along the trail at Dittmer Road, just past Herman Road, you’ll find a trailhead, restrooms, and parking to your right, and a small bike shop and café to your left. From here the route begins to head directly south, passing a golf course with a café and clubhouse in about 0.7 more mile, and then several more road crossings, before reaching Marwood, where you’ll pass Freehling Lumber Company at the site where a post office and railroad station from earlier days once stood.
From Cabot, the trail heads 13 miles on a downhill trajectory, passing through rural landscapes in Sarver. At miles 14 and 14.5 along the trail, you may notice the remains of two dams along Buffalo Creek that served sand plants in the area. At the Bear Creek Road trailhead, at around 14.9 miles, fishing is permitted.
At around mile 16.8, you’ll come to the Monroe trailhead; just a few hundred feet south along Monroe Road is Buffalo Township Audubon Park, managed by the Audubon Society of Western Pennsylvania, where a community park and recreation area—anticipated for completion by 2021—are being developed. You can cast a line for fish on the adjacent property here.
The route passes under PA 28/Alexander H. Lindsay Memorial Highway. At mile 19, look for the ruins of brick kilns along the trail, a reminder of the area’s 19th-century brickmaking days. The path ends in about another 2 miles, just south of Main Street in Freeport.
Here, you can opt to take a 0.1-mile shared-road section northwest along Main Street and then south along Old Pike Road to a dedicated bike and pedestrian path that takes you along the east side of the PA 356 bridge to River Landing Drive. From here, you can connect to the Wynn and Clara Tredway Trail that extends a few miles south along the Allegheny River.
To reach the northern trailhead in Butler from I-79, take Exit 99, and turn right to head east on US 422/Benjamin Franklin Hwy. Go 15.9 miles and exit onto PA 68/Jefferson St. Turn right onto PA 68 W/E. Jefferson St. Go 1.2 miles, and turn left onto S. Monroe St. Go 0.4 mile, and turn left onto Center Ave. Go 0.1 mile, and turn left onto Zeigler Ave. Go 0.3 mile, and turn left onto Kaufman Dr. Go 0.1 mile, and turn right into the trailhead parking lot.
To reach the southern trailhead in Freeport from I-79, take Exit 99, and turn right to head east on US 422/Benjamin Franklin Hwy. Go 18.8 miles and turn right onto Bonniebrook Road. In 6.2 miles turn left onto PA 356, and go 9.8 miles. Turn left onto Old Pike Road, and go about 400 feet, and then turn right onto Main St. Take a sharp right to stay on Main St., and turn left into the trailhead parking lot.
To reach the southern trailhead in Freeport from I-76, take Exit 48, and keep right for PA 28/New Kensington. Merge onto Freeport Road, and go 0.8 mile. Turn right onto PA 910, and in 0.2 mile turn right to merge onto PA 28 N. Go 13.5 miles, and take Exit 17 for PA 356. Turn right onto PA 356 S/Butler Road, and go 1.5 miles, and then follow the directions above from Old Pike Road to the trail.
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