Cindy Adams Dunn and Jim Rigby

Department of Conservation and Natural Resources Secretary Cindy Adams Dunn (left) and state Rep. Jim Rigby, R-Ferndale, hike on Friday, Nov. 8, 2019, along a proposed trail connection from the existing Path of the Flood Trail into downtown Johnstown.

The head of Pennsylvania’s Department of Conservation and Natural Resources on Friday hiked along the path of a proposed trail connector that, if completed, would extend the Path of the Flood Trail through downtown Johnstown.

DCNR Secretary Cindy Adams Dunn met with a group of elected officials, local conservation leaders and Johnstown residents at the corner of Phoebe Court and Maple Avenue in the city’s Woodvale section, in front of a pedestrian tunnel that runs under several sets of Norfolk Southern railroad tracks.

“Nothing beats seeing a potential trail connector on the ground,” she said. “Every time I come to Johnstown, I see major progress on the vision to connect the Path of the Flood Trail, the (September 11th) National Memorial Trail, what they’re doing at the Inclined Plane and the waterfront park. It really inspires us at DCNR to try and help make that vision possible.”

The members of the group – including Dunn, state Rep. Jim Rigby, Cambria County Commissioner Thomas Chernisky, Johnstown Mayor Frank Janakovic and Johnstown City Councilwoman the Rev. Sylvia King – walked through the pedestrian tunnel and boarded a waiting CamTran bus, which took them up Plum Avenue as far as it could go.

They then got off the bus and hiked the rest of the way up Plum Avenue to a short, steep, switchbacked gravel trail, which led to a former trolley right of way that runs between Woodvale and East Conemaugh. Brad Clemenson, Lift Johnstown coordinator, said the Conemaugh Valley Conservancy is working to build the trail connector along that route.

The completion of the trail connector would be implemented as part of the Johnstown Urban Connectivity Plan, which has the goal of connecting Johnstown’s transportation hubs, parks, cultural resources and other amenities to each other and to the outside world along multi-use trails.

The Path of the Flood Trail is one of seven wholly or partially funded trail projects expected to carry the September 11th National Memorial Trail and the Pittsburgh-to-Harrisburg Main Line Canal Greenway through Johnstown. The former is a proposed 1,300-mile network of trails connecting the three sites where hijacked planes crashed on Sept. 11, 2001; the latter is a 320-mile trail network across Pennsylvania.

“If we can bring the September 11th National Memorial Trail through downtown Johnstown, that’s going to really put us on the map in a big way,” said Clemenson, a member of the September 11th National Memorial Trail Alliance.

The projected cost to complete all of those proposed trail projects and connectors is approximately $34 million, according to a press release distributed after Friday’s event by DCNR.

While in Johnstown, Dunn also touted Gov. Tom Wolf’s Restore Pennsylvania infrastructure initiative, maintaining that “development and expansion” of trail projects require “multi-pronged, concerted efforts to succeed” and “the sustained financing that only Restore Pennsylvania can provide.”

“Our ability to really meet this vision in Johnstown depends not only on the grant money we have,” she said, “but (also) on our ability to secure Restore Pennsylvania so that we can get these projects on the ground faster. The sooner we can connect these trails, the sooner we can have these assets running through downtown Johnstown, the sooner all the benefits will flow – economic benefits, health and wellness benefits, telling the story of resilience that Johnstown has.”

A map provided by consultant Jim Laird, of Laird Recreation, shows the path of the proposed Path of the Flood Trail connector along which Dunn and others hiked on Friday – through the woods from the end of Plum Street to the intersection of Cambria and 1st streets in East Conemaugh, near Mt. Sinai Institutional Baptist Church.

From the Plum Street end, the trail runs along Plum Street through Woodvale, through the pedestrian tunnel and along Clinton Street into downtown Johnstown, where it provides access to the Johnstown Inclined Plane, CamTran’s Transit Center, the Johnstown Amtrak station and other transit hubs.

Meanwhile, from the East Conemaugh end, the trail runs on streets through East Conemaugh, across the Sergeant Michael Strank Memorial Bridge and along Main Street in Franklin to connect to the existing Path of the Flood Trail trailhead near the Franklin ballfield, according to Laird’s map. From there, it offers access to Ehrenfeld, Mineral Point and the Staple Bend Tunnel.

The expansion of the Path of the Flood Trail and other local trails is a key part of ongoing efforts by local tourism, civic and conservation leaders to rebrand Johnstown as a “mountain town” – a destination for outdoors sports such as running, hiking, biking and kayaking.

“I think the next 10 years in Johnstown are critical to really turn the corner and use those natural assets – the mountains, the rivers, one of the deepest gorges in Pennsylvania,” Dunn said Friday. “The river’s getting cleaned up, bit by bit.

“The trails are getting built. … There’s just so many good stories to tell here.”

Mark Pesto is a reporter for The Tribune-Democrat. Follow him on Twitter at @MarkPesto.

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