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The Path of the Flood Trail might be unique among rail-trails for being named after a tragedy, the Johnstown Flood of 1889, considered the nation’s worst catastrophe of the 19th century. Some 2,200 people lost their lives when the South Fork Dam failed and 20 million tons of water washed down the narrow Little Conemaugh River Valley for 14 miles to Johnstown, destroying everything in its path.
The trail is paired with the Staple Bend Tunnel Trail, which preserves a tunnel finished in 1833 as the nation’s first railroad tunnel. The National Park Service operates the 901-foot-long tunnel and associated trail. Both trails are part of the Trans Allegheny Trail System, comprised of several trails in western Pennsylvania. The Path of the Flood Trail is also part of the September 11th National Memorial Trail that connects the 9/11, Flight 93, and Pentagon Memorials, as well as the Industrial Heartland Trails Coalition’s developing 1,500-mile trail network through Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Ohio, and New York.
Together, they follow the course of the Allegheny Portage Railroad. Built in the 1830s, the railroad carried barges across Allegheny highlands, connecting the eastern and western segments of the Pennsylvania Canal. Eventually becoming obsolete, the portage railroad was acquired in 1857 by the Pennsylvania Railroad, which discontinued using some segments (it never used the tunnel) and upgraded others.
Including on-road sections, the two trails run 11.8 miles along the Little Conemaugh River. Given the nature of the Allegheny Portage Railroad—level sections paired with steep inclines, rather than the gradual slopes associated with most railroads—the Staple Bend Tunnel Trail has a short, steep grade in each direction. The off-road trail comprises mostly crushed stone, with a 0.5 mile of aggregate stone surfacing near the Staple Bend Tunnel.
The route starts at the Johnstown Flood Museum (jaha.org) at 304 Washington St. The trail is mostly on sidewalks and city streets in this 4.2-mile segment to the Staple Bend Tunnel Trail. Follow the bike route signs on Washington and Clinton Streets; turn left on the Phoebe Court Bridge, then use the tunnel under the railroad tracks. The trail continues right on Plum Street to a short trail that follows switchbacks on an old trolley line. Emerging in East Conemaugh, turn right onto Cambria Street and left onto East Railroad Street. You’ll then need to make a series of three lefts onto Davis, Greeve, and Main Streets, respectively. Take the SR 271/Main Street bridge across the river to Franklin, and then turn left onto Main Street for 0.5 mile.
Turn left onto Pershing Street, and take the right fork to the parking area at Franklin Borough Ball Field. In about 1 mile, the surface changes to a bikeable aggregate stone surface for 0.5 mile to the Staple Bend Tunnel, which carried barge traffic over the mountains via rail. Note that this section, while maneuverable by wheelchair and bike, contains some challenging hills. Entering the tunnel, notice the ornamental stonework at the west portal, which was designed to impress users; a similar portal on the east side was removed in 1907. A flashlight isn’t absolutely necessary, but it would allow you to closely examine the workmanship inside the tunnel.
Back to crushed stone, the tunnel trail continues 2 miles to the Beech Hill Road trailhead. Turn left and cross the bridge to Mineral Point, and then turn right onto Mineral Point Road and right onto Reynolds Lane to pick up the Path of the Flood Trail. The trail follows a bench overlooking the Little Conemaugh River, the surrounding forest, and the tracks of the Norfolk Southern Railroad. Following a slight uphill grade for the next 2 miles, you’ll see the borough of South Fork across the river and its confluence with the South Fork Little Conemaugh River, which carried the deluge from the failed dam. Signs mark historic points on this segment.
The off-road trail ends just ahead at Portage Street. Continue on Portage Street 0.4 mile, and then on Second Street another 0.4 mile to Penn Street. Turn right onto Penn Street, and go a little less than 0.1 mile to the Ehrenfeld Park trailhead, where you’ll find parking, a drinking fountain, and restrooms.
Note that to avoid the hilly section near the Staple Bend Tunnel in Johnstown, some trail users opt to do an out-and-back trip to the tunnel beginning at the Ehrenfeld Park or Beech Hill Road trailheads.
Plans call for extending the trail across the river in South Fork, and then along the South Fork Little Conemaugh River to about 0.2 mile away from the dam and the Johnstown Flood National Memorial (nps.gov/jofl).
To reach the western endpoint at the Johnstown Flood Museum from I-76, take Exit 110 toward US 219/Somerset/Johnstown. Continue on PA Turnpike Access Road for 0.3 mile, and then continue on N. Pleasant Ave. 0.4 mile. Turn left onto SR 281/Stoystown Road, go 1.9 miles, and exit right onto US 219. Go 23.8 miles, and take the SR 56/Johnstown Expy. exit. Go 5.3 miles, and turn right onto Walnut St. Then go 0.3 mile, and turn right onto Washington St. The museum is located at this intersection at 304 Washington St. Look for on-street parking.
To reach the eastern trailhead at Ehrenfeld Park from I-76, follow the directions above to US 219. Go 31 miles, and exit toward South Fork, turning left onto SR 53 N/Railroad St. Go 0.8 mile, and turn right onto Oak St. Then go 0.1 mile, turn right onto Portage St., and go 0.1 mile. Take a slight right onto Second St., and go 0.4 mile. Turn right onto Penn St., and then turn right onto Mt. Carmel St. Look for parking immediately to your left at Ehrenfeld Park.
This is a "follow-up" of a review I did for the Path of the Flood Trail in July 2013. I had mentioned the incomplete sections, the uphill sections, and the poor Ehrenfeld trail access. Since then, the Cambria County Conservation & Recreation Authority (and others, I'm sure) has done an excellent job maintaining and improving the trail. First, the incomplete section from the Staple Bend Tunnel to Franklin is now complete. Note though, that this section of the trail is still a bit rough. There is run-off from the hillside, so there's a good bit of mud on this section. And parts of it are steep and hilly. When I went through a few weeks ago, they were working on this, so I'm sure this will get better. Once you get to Franklin, the bike route is a little better marked in town to the city. Next, the Ehrenfeld trail access is still the same. The actual trail starts at least a mile from trailhead parking, so, after parking your car, you have to walk/bike through town (and people's yards, it seems!) to get to the trailhead. (A little side note, don't try to park at the actual trailhead,(because there IS room for a few cars), there's a good chance the South Fork police will ticket you. I know, they got me!) The positives of this trail outweigh the negatives though. The scenery on the whole trail, especially from Ehrenfeld to Mineral Point and then on to the Staple Bend Tunnel, is just beautiful. Make sure you stop for a break at the Conemaugh Viaduct. Most likely, if you wait a few minutes, a train will come through. It's neat to see! I'm just glad a trail like this is so close to my home. It will be my "go-to" trail hopefully for a long time.
My wife and I have been walking local trails for years now. We both agree the Path of the Johnstown Flood Trail from Mineral Point to the Staple Bend Tunnel is our favorite trail, and it’s the one that we look forward to each spring to walk on. Other trails like the Ghost Town Trail, Stackhouse Park’s trails in Johnstown, and the Ferndale Trail are some others that we also enjoy. The fresh air, the sounds of nature and the light conversation between us when walking, all mix together to create a pleasant and healthy outing that costs nothing, just a couple of hours. We meet others on the trails and often talk for a while. The experience is exuberant, refreshing, and peaceful-- and that mood stays with us the rest of the day when we walk in the morning.
On the trail from Mineral Point to the Staple Bend Tunnel, the sightings of deer, groundhogs, squirrels and the sounds of the Norfolk and Southern Railroad ( once the Pennsylvania Railroad ) that come from down a steep embankment beside the trail, add to the pleasant experience of this scenic and historic stroll. What’s interesting is often ‘Pusher Engines’ can be heard returning to Conemaugh yard across the river from Franklin. Pusher Engines help push freight trains up the steep grade to Altoona. A very similar problem that canal boats had: The Portage Allegheny Railroad used inclines to pull and lower canal boats, often loaded with freight, up and down very steep grades, when coming from the East or West.
The Mineral Point Trail is flat and covered with shell or limestone that has been tamped down-- making it a good walking surface. And many benches are located next to the trail, close enough together to make it easy to reach the next one with just a little effort. The trailhead at Mineral Point has parking and restrooms. At the tunnel’s entrance on the east side ( Mineral Point side ), a picnic bench lets you rest while giving you a close and touching view of the tunnel and hillside. And though-out the trail, information about the railroad and tunnel is provided on podiums. Venturing through the tunnel cools you off on a hot day, and once you exit the western end, the slope meets you. This slope was the site of the old incline that once raised and lowered canal boat. I would recommend taking a flashlight along. But it is safe to enter the tunnel without one.
Many original stones drilled with two holes---known as stone block sleepers---rest along the way, and from their appearance some haven’t been moved since being placed there in the 1830s. And stone culverts can be seen as you walk or bicycle by.
One day alone on my bike, I started from the Mineral Point trailhead and bicycled though Mineral Point, and took a trail segment that was once the old trolley route which leads to Ehrenfeld. A very scenic and historical view strikes you on this trail, and one that should be ventured upon by all who love trail walking or bicycling. The old Conemaugh Viaduct for example, can be viewed. When a train is passing over the Viaduct, a mesmerizing picture that visually reminds us about the railroading history that has settled into these mountains appears. With just a little imagination, the old Portage Allegheny Railroad and the canals came alive again.
The new section above the Franklin Ball Field to the Staple Bend Tunnel is finished, and I must congratulate Steve McCoy, from Franklin, for spearheading the construction of this section. It was a time-consuming effort on his part with some help from others.
At the time of the Allegheny Portage Railroad, steam engines were in their infancy. Once the canal boats reached the lower end of the incline at the Staple Bend Tunnel, they traveled on rail cars through an area that many years latter became Bethlehem Steel’s Scrap Yard, known as William’s Farm. William’s Farm lays behind the old Bethlehem Wheel Plant that still stands below the Franklin Ball Field.
When steam locomotives were in their old age and diesel locomotives taking over,
Bethlehem scrapped perhaps hundreds of steam locomotive in the 1950s! at William’s Farm! I’ve talked with a former Wheel Plant employee who said, “They had them ( Steam Locomotives ) lined up all over the place. When they were done with them, a new batch of them came in-- lined up all over the place.” The young, adolescent Steam locomotives of the 1830s and 1840s, traveled over paths that were only a few feet away, but over a century apart, from the site that their decedents, the large, powerful, massive Steam Locomotives of the Twentieth Century, met their fate at the hands of blow-touches and crushers. Oh, if the Staple Bend Tunnel could only talk!
The rest of the Path of the Johnstown Flood trail follows streets into Johnstown. At Washington Street by Gautier, a former Bethlehem Plant, turn right and follow Washington street to the Flood museum on the corner of Washington and Locust Streets. This last leg would be very difficult to walk but can be easily traveled by bicycle, but I would recommend riding this leg only on a holiday or Sundays when traffic is much lighter.
I lived in Johnstown all my life, but never knew where the Staple Bend Tunnel was or knew much about its history until a few years ago. With so much history around Johnstown, every tourist should spend a couple of days enjoying the historical sights and festivities that the summer months promote. And walk or bicycle our many relaxing and scenic trails
I had been looking forward to biking the Path of the Flood trail for some time, and today, I finally had a day off. So off to the Ehrenfeld trailhead I went. After reading reviews and info online, my plan was to bike the whole way to the Franklin ball field and then on into Johnstown and the Flood Museum. The first "bump" in my road was finding that the trailhead in Ehrenfeld is actually 1+ miles from the actual beginning of the trail, so you have to park and then bike through town to get there. No big deal, so off I went. The first section of trail (approximately 2-3 miles) to Mineral Point was very scenic, especially the Conemaugh Viaduct (especially if a train's coming through!). But caution, this section is mostly downhill, so remember that coming back will be uphill! Reaching Mineral Point, you now go off trail and through town on the road. The section through town is a good climb uphill to the Mineral Point trailhead. Here the trail flattens out a bit and is also very scenic. About 2+ miles later is the very beautiful and historic Staple Bend tunnel. Take a flashlight, and look around inside, if possible. Bike riders should use caution going through, as it is VERY DARK. There are signs telling bikers to walk their bikes through, and this is probably a very good idea. Next the trail pretty much ends. I guess there are plans to extend this trail on into Franklin, but currently, there is a fairly rugged road to the Franklin ball field. There are No Trespassing signs and you wonder if you're even allowed to be there! But keep going about a mile or so and you'll reach the ball field. Here is where I got lost. I thought after reading online, that there would be signs on the streets of Franklin directing bike riders the way to the Flood Museum, but there were only a few signs for 2 or 3 blocks, and then nothing. I am fairly familiar with the city of Johnstown, as I live in the area, but I had no idea where I was. I rode around for awhile in Franklin, and then East Conemaugh, looking for directions, but I couldn't find my way. Luckily, I found a dollar store, got something to drink, and took a break at the East Conemaugh Veteran's Park. I somehow made my way back to the ball field and just went the way I came. All in all, it was a nice, scenic ride. I am not a beginning rider (but not an expert either!), but some sections were grueling, especially the off-trail sections. Certain sections are definitely not for beginners. I would visit this trail again, but only when the whole trail is finished in the future.
i have bicycled both sides in my day and can honestly say it was great,relaxing,peaceful,nothing better than getting out in nature,take it from the toaster,go visit this great trail.
To enhance your understanding of the history here, I suggest reading "The Johnstown Flood" by David McCullough. The upper portion of the trail from Mineral Point to Ehrenfield is streets at each end and former streetcar line (no vehicles) set high above the river, in between the ends. There is parking at the park (restrooms) at Ehrenfield and at the Staple Bend Tunnel parking lot (restrooms and water) across the river and railroad at Mineral Point. you can ride the street from Mineral Point to the Staple Bend parking lot. The Staple Bend portion of the trail was part of the Allegheny Portage Railroad, which connected the eastern and western portions of the Pennsylvania Mainline Canalin the early 1800's. (The Flood was in 1889.) The best view of the tunnel entrance is the one on the far end. The close entrance, for some reason is quite plain but the far end was built with "Corinthian Collumns decorating it.
They tell you to walk your bike thru the tunnel. I didn't. You can see the other end and can concentrate on it and ride thru. On the way back, I was hot and tired, so I walked and midway thru, realized I had a small flashlight in my bag. I stopped and got it out and looked at the interior. As iI started walking again, I ran over some chunks of rock that had fallen from the ceiling but that I missed (luckily) on the first trip thru. You can not see the trail surface when you ride thru, only the light at the end, so don't ride. At the far (Johnstown) end, the trail decends (one of the inclines where they hauled the canal boats up or down) to the valley level. There is an informal trail to the unused railroad bed, which when followed, take you into Franklin (the upstream end of Johnstown). However you end up inside a scrap yard fence with no way out. There is about a mile of trail at the Franklin end, but it is way up on the hillside, with no connection to the Staple Bend Trail yet. The is a planned connection in the future, but not yet. To get to the Franklin trail start. follow the "Bike Route" signs from downtown Johnstown, north (upstream) and it will lead you right to the "Path of the Flood Trail" at the top of the hill. Do no be afraid of the "No Trespassing" sign on the street at the brick posts and gate. It leads to a ball field. Just continue to the top. There is not much parking, but it is only 1 mile long right now. You can park at the ball field, but it a heck of a climb to the trail start. Enjoy.
The Path of the Flood Trail actually consists of two sections with a 3900 foot unfinished section in between. The South Fork exit off of Route 219 leads to the Ehrenfeld Trail Head. It is 4.1 miles from here to the Staple Bend Tunnel Trail parking lot, then 2 miles on to the tunnel. After going through the tunnel the trail ends.This is the north end of the unfinished section.
The second section of the trail begins at the Johnstown Flood Museum on Washington Street. It is 3.8 miles from here to the south end of the unfinished section.
For more information about this historic and beautiful trail please contact the Cambria County Conservation and Recreation Authority 401 Candlelight Drive, Suite 234, Ebensburg, PA 15931
Phone: 814-472-2110 email: firstname.lastname@example.org
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