Trail of Remembrance

People walk on Saturday afternoon, Nov. 2, 2019, along the new Trail of Remembrance at Flight 93 National Memorial in Somerset County, immediately following the ceremony in which it was dedicated. 

SHANKSVILLE – By almost any standard, Flight 93 National Memorial is impressive in scope. It’s more than 2,200 acres in size, is built to a prominent California architect’s grand design and draws hundreds of thousands of visitors from around the world each year.

However, many visitors to the Somerset County memorial seem just as interested in the much simpler first temporary memorial at the crash site of Flight 93, a 40-foot length of chain-link fence that was removed years ago, according to MaryJane Hartman, chief of interpretation at the memorial.

“Working on the Memorial Plaza,” Hartman said on Saturday, “every hour of every day, visitors would stop by, and they’d talk, and they’d say, ‘I was here before, but I’m a little confused. I don’t know exactly where I was back then. Where was the chain-link fence? Where was the temporary memorial?’”

“As an ambassador here,” agreed Donna Gibson, executive director of the Friends of Flight 93 National Memorial, “I can’t tell you how many times visitors have walked up to me and said, ‘Where was the chain-link fence? Why isn’t it here?’”

On Saturday, National Park Service officials, Friends of Flight 93 National Memorial leaders, relatives of Flight 93’s passengers and crew members and other key stakeholders officially dedicated a walking trail that will allow memorial staff and volunteers to answer that question more easily.

“Now, as we welcome visitors to this memorial, we can point them in the direction of the temporary memorial and where the chain-link fence was,” Gibson said.

The half-mile-long gravel-surfaced “Trail of Remembrance” follows part of the former route of Skyline Road, which provided access from Lambertsville Road to the crash site and the temporary memorial. The road was officially abandoned and closed in 2009 during the construction of the permanent memorial.

Starting from the gravel overflow parking lot near the memorial’s Memorial Plaza, the winding trail leads up a grassy hillside to the former site of the temporary memorial, where for years visitors laid flags, flowers, cards and thousands of other items in tribute to those aboard the flight. Three interpretive signs are located along the length of the trail.

Reading from the sign at the trail’s beginning, Steve Clark, superintendent of the five national parks in western Pennsylvania, said on Saturday that, in the decade after Sept. 11, 2001, “more than 1 million visitors traveled this hillside to reach a simple but powerful temporary memorial overlooking the crash site.”

Hartman said that visitors’ keen interest in the site of the temporary memorial has to do with “the connection between emotion and place.”

“Those visitors who fervently ask about the location of the temporary memorial want to experience those feelings that they had on their first visit,” she said. “Through the dedication of this Trail of Remembrance, our visitors will perhaps once again be able to connect to their emotions and feelings through the place where they first experienced these overwhelming and perhaps healing emotions.”

Maj. John Forte and the soldiers under his command from the Johnstown-based 458th Engineering Battalion of the U.S. Army Reserve assisted in the trail’s construction. On Saturday, Forte said he and his soldiers “couldn’t be more honored” to have helped build the trail and to be present at its dedication.

‘An important organization’

Saturday’s trail dedication was held immediately following the annual meeting of the Friends of Flight 93 National Memorial in the memorial’s Learning Center.

During the meeting, the members of the organization voted to appoint three new members to its board of directors, including Katrina Perkosky, a Jennerstown resident who works as a donor and development services officer for the Johnstown-based Community Foundation for the Alleghenies. Perkosky said after the meeting that she hopes to use her experience in grant writing, nonprofit management and fundraising to help the organization continue to succeed.

“This is an important organization in Somerset County,” she said, “and, as a Somerset County resident, I’m very excited to be a part of it. There’s been great growth and success over the last 10 years, and I’m looking forward to helping to continue that success in the next 10.”

Also during the meeting, Clark listed his “three major goals” for 2020. “First and foremost” among those goals, he said, is what he called “Operation Hurricane” – the installation of a drainage system below the memorial’s Memorial Plaza, located near the Wall of Names at its lowest elevation. He estimated that the project could cost between $750,000 and $1.2 million.

The other two goals on Clark’s list are the completion of an ongoing Flight 93 oral history project and the completion of a distance learning center in Somerset. Clark also said that he hopes that the rest of the chimes in the Tower of Voices near the memorial’s Lincoln Highway entrance will be hung up in April or May of 2020.

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

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