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If Punxsutawney Phil sees his shadow on Groundhog Day, Mahoning Shadow Trail users expect six more weeks of winter before spring arrives. The 15-mile Central Pennsylvania trail passes through the hometown of the groundhog meteorologist, so the forecasts he makes when he emerges from his burrow might be more accurate here than elsewhere.
Phil puts the shadow in the trail’s name, and Mahoning Creek supplies the other part of the moniker. The path follows Mahoning Creek and Ugly Run as it travels through old coal-mining country that now supports forests and farm lots.
The trail traces a Pennsylvania & North Western Railroad line (later Pennsylvania Railroad) built in the 1890s to haul coal out of mines that honeycomb the region, and which fell into disuse in the 1980s. The Punxsutawney Area Rails to Trails Association formed in 1995 to create the trail, which opened in two segments in 2002 and 2004. Two sections in town—0.2 mile and 0.4 mile—are on neighborhood streets. The western two-thirds is level, but the eastern section has an uphill grade.
Beginning near the old coal-mining town of Valier in the west, the trail travels through woods and past farms for more than a mile before it catches up to Mahoning Creek, a tributary of the Allegheny River. The trail follows the creek closely to Punxsutawney, except for taking a shortcut across a couple of bends.
About 5.5 miles down the trail, you’ll see abandoned ovens nearby that burned coal into coke for iron furnaces. You can explore these if you like. The trail crosses Mahoning Creek at 6.1 miles and runs alongside tracks of the Buffalo & Pittsburgh Railroad for a short distance until the active train tracks cross Mahoning Creek on a picturesque railroad trestle. There are views of downtown Punxsutawney in this section.
The trail passes underneath US 119 at 7.3 miles, after which you’ll turn left onto Indiana Street and right onto South Gilpin Street (total 0.2 mile) to rejoin the trail at South Penn Street, which uses the levee for about 0.6 mile to East Mahoning Street.
Turn left onto that street to cross the creek for the annual Groundhog Festival (late June or early July) in Barclay Square. To reach the groundhog’s year-round residence at Gobbler’s Knob, turn right onto East Mahoning Street, and then go south on Woodland Avenue Extension for 1.3 miles.
If you don’t take either side trip, you can regain the trail in 0.4 mile by turning right onto East Mahoning Street and then left onto Elk Street. The trailhead is located on the right at Thomas L. Barletta Skate Park.
At South Penn Street, an alternative route originally created for a now--defunct elementary school takes riders off the trail to the right on Penn Street, left onto State Street, left onto Oakland Avenue, and then left onto East Mahoning Street, where it rejoins the trail. This route is marked by signage.
About 2 miles past the skate park, the trail joins Canoe Creek, which it follows for a mile, and then picks up Ugly Run, which it follows upstream—and uphill—for 3.3 miles to the trailhead on Winslow Road.
To reach the western trailhead in Valier from I-80, take Exit 78, and head south on SR 36 S/Allegheny Blvd. Go 0.4 mile, and turn left onto US 322/SR 36/W. Main St. Go 0.8 mile, and turn right onto SR 36/S. White St./Col. Drake Hwy. Go 18.4 miles, and turn right onto Perry St. Go 0.4 mile, and bear right onto No. 8 Road/SR 3008. Then go 3.2 miles, and turn left onto Fordham Road/SR 3015. Go 1.2 miles, and look for parking on the left.
To reach the eastern trailhead in Winslow from I-80, take Exit 78, and head south on SR 36 S/Allegheny Blvd. Go 0.4 mile, and turn left onto US 322/SR 36/W. Main St. Go 0.8 mile, and turn right onto SR 36/S. White St./Col. Drake Hwy. Go 25.1 miles, and turn right onto Winslow Road/SR 2001. Go 0.6 mile, and look for parking on the right.
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