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PG: Filling the gaps in the trail system

Biking enthusiasts, take heart. The plan that eventually will extend the Three Rivers Heritage Trail to join the Erie to Pittsburgh Trail is taking shape.

Phase I of the Etna Riverfront Trail and Park, located under the 62nd Street Bridge, is under way now, and at the same time Shaler, Etna’s neighbor to the north, is working on a plan to get  bike riders from Kiwanis Park to the emerging Etna park and beyond.

The Pittsburgh to Erie Trail, also known as the Erie to Pittsburgh Trail depending on direction, is a rails to trails project being developed in Western Pennsylvania, that, when completed, will give bikers and hikers nearly 270 miles to enjoy as they travel between Erie and Pittsburgh.

Shaler manager Tim Rogers said the township is working with Allegheny County and the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation to extend its portion of the riverfront trail from the southern end of Millvale Riverfront Park to Etna’s portion.

“It’s early in the process yet. But we’re hoping once we develop a study the railroad will cooperate.” Gaining the cooperation of CSX is the key to Shaler’s plan, and Mr. Rogers said the township is hoping they can work together to extend the trail from Millvale to Etna. “Each community is trying to do their part.”

Located at the foot of Bridge Street, the Etna park construction, or Phase I of the project, should be complete by the end of September even as the second phase is in the midst of design and engineering. The park should open in the summer of 2020, connecting the Etna Riverfront Trail to the Sharpsburg border where it will mesh with the Allegheny River Trail Park.

A pair of sturdy hiking boots is all it takes to survey the future Allegheny River Trail Park.

This spring, a landscape and urban design team led by Balmori Associates and Sherwood Design Engineers was selected to develop the park after input from local community leaders in Aspinwall, O’Hara and Sharpsburg.

According to Balmori, the 1.5-acre trail is one of the missing links of the larger trail network. Once completed, it will allow bikers to reach Pittsburgh in less than 30 minutes from Sharpsburg. Besides a riverfront trail, the engineers working with Balmori are proposing to alleviate flooding issues along Main Street in Sharpsburg. Community engagement included the Balmori team attending local events and holding open meetings in Aspinwall, O’Hara and Sharpsburg.

Balmori plans to add a commuter trail behind the riverfront one so people riding to work have a faster route through the back of the park. Once funding is secured, work should begin on the 19th Street entrance, followed by construction of the Sharpsburg portion of the bike trail followed by the commuter trail. Subsequent steps will depend on funding and planning.

In addition, the Mosites Co., a Downtown Pittsburgh-based developer, is in the planning stages of developing its property known as Riverfront 47. The project, which eventually will be a mixed use site combining residential, commercial and light industrial, also will provide a connection from 19th Street in Sharpsburg through O’Hara  to the Aspinwall Riverfront Park.

Trish Klatt, president of ARP’s board of directors said the park has a sales agreement with Riverfront 47 to purchase 15 acres to be used as a right of way to expand its trail through portions of Aspinwall, O’Hara and Sharpsburg. The board currently is raising additional money for the purchase. It has so far received a $1 million grant from the Colcom Foundation. For its part, Riverfront 47 is reducing the purchase price of the acreage from its appraised value.

Meantime, O’Hara already is at work, establishing its own trail that will connect bikers farther north along the Allegheny River. Julie Jakubec, township manager, said its own portion, which begins at Squaw Run Park on Fox Chapel Road, consists of special lanes marked along existing pavement.

“A lot of ours is a share-the-road concept,” she said. “Similar to Blawnox, where we simply mark the pavement.”

According to its website, expansion is part of the Three Rivers Heritage Trail’s initiative involving public and private groups to complete the trail from Pittsburgh through Millvale, Shaler, Etna, Sharpsburg, Aspinwall, Fox Chapel, O’Hara, Blawnox on north to connect the trail with the Armstrong Trail.

For now, bikers can enjoy views of the river and all Pittsburgh has to offer by driving to Millvale Riverfront Park and taking their long-established trail past Three Rivers Rowing, where crew vessels are stacked, awaiting the next team practice, to the North Shore and beyond.

Rita Michel, freelance writer: suburbanliving@post-gazette.com.