VINTONDALE – When the first segment of the Ghost Town Trail was opened, the conversion of abandoned rail beds for recreational purpose was growing in popularity.
On Friday, officials from Cambria and Indiana counties who helped bring the project to fruition celebrated the 25th anniversary of the trail that now stretches 36 miles.
By 1987, the late U.S. Rep. John P. Murtha had urged the National Park Service to inventory industrial heritage sites in a nine-county region of southwestern Pennsylvania, the findings of which led to America’s Industrial Heritage Project.
That program eventually served as a catalyst for the establishment of the Ghost Town Trail and several others.
In 1991, the Kovalchick Salvage Company of Indiana announced that it would donate 16 miles of the former Ebensburg & Blacklick Railroad to establish a trail between Dilltown and Nanty Glo.
A dedication of the first 16 miles was held in 1994.
Laurie Lafontaine started a grassroots effort to establish a rail-trail in Indiana County, which resulted in the Ghost Town Trail as well as the C&I Trail Council.
Eventually, the Cambria County Conservation & Recreation Authority was formed to oversee Cambria County’s portion of the trail.
Dee Columbus was the first executive director of that authority, a position she held for 18 years, and attended the 1994 opening of the Ghost Town Trail with her young children.
At Friday’s celebration, she attended with her children and grandchildren.
“We have all been enjoying the trail ever since,” she said.
Cambria County President Commissioner Tom Chernisky said local trails have become destination points and have been recognized across Pennsylvania and the nation.
“The trails do great things for our communities,” Chernisky said.
Brad Clemenson, an authority board member and part of the Conemaugh Valley Conservancy, was Murtha’s former communications director and read an excerpt from Murtha’s remarks the day of the Ghost Town Trail dedication, which predicted the trail would be an economic catalyst for the region.
“There were people who had a vision for this trail,” Clemenson said, and now those who have a vision to connect the Ghost Town Trail with other local trails and communities. “Our work is far from over.”
Cliff Kitner, current executive director of the Cambria County Conservation & Recreation Authority, explained that there are 5.5 miles left to make the Ghost Town Trail the first continuous rail-trail loop in the nation.
Cambria County officials recently approved a resolution supporting an application to the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development Multimodal Transportation Fund grant for $3 million to accomplish that goal.
Connecting the Ghost Town Trail in Cambria Township near the Route 219 overpass and completing its 32-mile and 16-mile loops has been a goal of the Cambria County Conservation and Recreation Authority for years.
In August, the authority celebrated the opening of a two-mile extension of the trail past Revloc.
Last year, the authority held a ribbon-cutting on the first phase of a loop, a $1.2 million, 7.5-mile extension at the Vic Miller Road trailhead.
“Hopefully, 25 years from now, we’re celebrating the whole thing,” Kitner said.