Brett Hollern

Brett Hollern, the county's trail manager, speaks during a news conference Tuesday, Nov. 29, 2016, at the Inclined Plane in Westmont. The energy firm NRG selected the Community Foundation For the Alleghenies' trail project as one of three finalists in its contest for $100,000.

The region is a finalist for a $100,000 prize that would help project partners work to fill two local gaps within the September 11 National Memorial Trail system – one between Garrett and Berlin, and another along an abandoned Johnstown trolley line above Woodvale.

Those behind the effort are hoping a "Hockeyville-style" voting campaign will carry the area to victory in the days to come.

Online voting started Tuesday in a contest operated by the energy firm NRG, which selected the Community Foundation For the Alleghenies' trail project as one of three finalists, the Johnstown-based foundation's executive director, Mike Kane, said.

"We've already made the final round, which means we have a great shot at winning," Kane said.

"Our motto is vote early and vote often."

Through its NRG Gives initiative, the New Jersey-based electric company selected the trail effort and two Philadelphia charities as finalists – and voting will continue online through Dec. 9 to choose a winner, he said.

The project with the most votes earns the $100,000 award.

Eight area entities, including the CFA, September 11 National Trail Alliance and Cambria County Conservation and Recreation Authority, are working together to help the local project finish on top.

That's because a win would help give two-county area, and trails such as the Path of the Flood and Jim Mayer Riverwalk, an even stronger link to a 1,300-mile trail system connecting the Flight 93 memorial, the Pentagon and New York City's World Trade Center, project partners said.

That trail has the potential to be an economic engine across its length. Locally, the trail creates a special opportunity to connect hikers, cyclists and other tourists to three national parks and other destinations, said Lift Johnstown's Brad Clemenson, who is also a member of two other groups partnering in the trail effort – the Conemaugh Valley Conservancy and September 11 National Memorial Trail Alliance.

"Johnstown can sort of be ... the showcase with all of our history – our flood history, our steel history and all of our cultural amenities around this trail," Clemenson said. "We can be a postcard for all of the great things America stands for – a must see place on the September 11 National Memorial Trail."

There are studies underway to look at how to link Flight 93 to Johnstown, he said. And funding has already been awarded for an "urban connectivity project" to study ways to link the city of Johnstown's existing trails together through new trails and on-road bike paths, Clemenson said.

The Path of the Flood Trail is already eyed as part of the September 11 trail system, but the Conemaugh Valley Conservancy and its partners are working to create an off-road path for a portion of the trail that runs from East Conemaugh to Woodvale, he said. A former trolley path and Norfolk Southern pedestrian underpass could become an improved, scenic part of that route "and this grant can help us get there," Clemenson said.

Alan Metzler, who manages NRG's Seward power plant, said the company saw the trail effort as a "worthy" one.

"We're fortunate to be so close to the Flight 93 National Memorial, where we can pay our tributes to the heroes of 9/11," he said.

More than 21 continuous miles of trail are already open in Somerset County.

But officials there are working to extend it, said Brett Hollern, the county's trail manager.

A portion of the NRG award would allow Somerset County officials to add at least four more miles on a former rail bed between the trail's Garrett connecting point and the Berlin area, thanks to a recent $230,000 land donation by CSX, Hollern said.

"We want to get as much of that trail off-road as possible," he said. "That's our goal."

Kane said the national trail will be important for the region and the nation.

"This trail is going to be a testament to this region's resiliency ... and a tribute to both the people who gave their lives and the heroic first responders of 9/11 who went above and beyond the call of duty that day," he said.

How to vote

The Community Foundation for the Alleghenies has posted a large banner depicting the September 11 trail map on its website, https://cfalleghenies.org

The public can click the link and scroll partway down the page, where a vote button is marked underneath Community Foundation and September 11 National Memorial Trail Alliance logos.

"It's really, really simple," Kane said, noting that casting a vote only takes a second or two and that there's no need to register for anything or provide an email.

"And there's no limit to how many times you can vote," he said. "You can vote, hit refresh and vote again."

He urged supporters to share the contest on social media and to spread the word about the effort.

A "Green Drinks" party at The Crow's Nest on Tire Hill Road is being hosted Thursday by the Community Foundation for the Alleghenies and Lift Johnstown and computers will be set up to encourage on-the-spot voting, Kane said.

The event runs from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m.

David Hurst is a reporter for The Tribune-Democrat. He can be reached at (814) 532-5053. Follow him on Twitter @TDDavidHurst and Instagram @TDDavidHurst.