|Building the Trail|
...by a group of private citizen volunteers for the purpose of acquiring the abandoned right-of-way of the Montour Railroad (and the Peters Creek Branch of the Pennsylvania Railroad) and developing it as a trail for non-motorized recreation. The MTC has grown from an initial 40 members in November 1989, to over 1,000 today.
After the Montour Railroad ceased operation in 1984, the unused rails became a popular place for walkers. Eventually, people began to realize that the Montour right-of-way could become a wonderful recreational trail. Westinghouse engineer Stan Sattinger and dentist Dino Angelici, now known for posterity as the MTC's cofounders, convened an initial meeting of 15 supporters on August 30, 1989. The dedicated group wisely decided to focus on gaining public acceptance for their ambitious undertaking. They began to attend public meetings and make presentations, taking advantage of a fledgling technology called PowerPoint to enhance their efforts.
The charter meeting for the Montour Trail Council was held on November 27, 1989, at the Mt. Lebanon Public Library. The first issue of the Montour Trail-Letter, a bimonthly newsletter, arrived the following spring. The movement was gaining traction.
The MTC faced an early governmental challenge when the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission (PUC) held hearings in March and April 1990 concerning abolition of the highway crossings of the abandoned railroad. The PUC listened with incredulity as a new group of energetic volunteers advocated preserving grade-separated crossings for the future safety of users of a trail that didn't exist yet. The resulting negotiations with the PUC would last for 11 years. Meanwhile, the MTC gained the support of state legislators, including Tom Murphy, Ron ("Huck") Gamble, and Mike Fisher, and a legislative breakfast was organized.
With assistance from the Allegheny County Planning Department, the MTC Board of Directors developed a Concept Plan, and distributed it to municipalities, agencies, and foundations. The Plan optimistically projected completion of the trail in three years. (At the 20-year anniversary of the MTC, members would joke that the trail had always been three years away from completion ever since its inception, and again predicted that the trail would be finished in another three years.) Congressman Doug Walgren helped the organization receive expedited 501(c)(3) certification as a not-for-profit entity, thus enabling the MTC to solicit funds from corporations and foundations. By the end of 1990, the effort was already gaining support from influential benefactors like the Vira Heinz Foundation and the Laurel Foundation.
In September 1991, the MTC, Allegheny County, and the Pittsburgh and Lake Erie Railroad (corporate heir of the Montour Railroad) signed an agreement to transfer 38 miles of the former Montour Railroad to MTC control. It was now time to start trail building.
1992 saw construction of the first segment of the trail, 4.5 miles in Cecil Township. Voluteers began work in March, making way for a contractor - Sluciak Contracting - to begin work in June. The completed segment was opened on October 10. The MTC received the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Award, signed by President George H. W. Bush, for its achievent.
The trail continued to grow in 1993, adding 2.6 miles in Findlay Township in July of that year, and 5.2 miles in Moon and Robinson Townships (Allegheny County) in October. In addition, in a herculean volunteer effort that July, 16 MTC members and Cecil Township citizens spent a cumulative 250 hours flagging traffic on Morganza Road while PennDOT District 12 crews dismantled the west abutment of the former bridge crossing for improved traffic visibility.
Another key event occurred in November 1993, with formation of the Cecil Friends of the Montour Trail. The Cecil Friends became the prototype for a network of Friends Groups that form the backbone for ongoing maintenance.
Another 3½-mile section opened in Findlay and North Fayette in September 1994. The creation of Allegheny County's Regional Asset District provided an important new funding source. And at long last, portable toilets were deployed in 1995! By the end of that year, the MTC was forming alliances with other trail organizations to cooperate toward establishment of the Great Allegheny Passage, a continuous trail system reaching from Pittsburgh to Washington, DC.
The MTC strode toward the new millenium in 1996 with establishment of their first web site, and opened trail segements in Robinson Township (Washington County) and Hendersonville. In conjunction with Ikea, the first Montour Trail ½Marathon and 5K Run/Walk was held; this annual race remains one of the trail's signature event. The ongoing dispute with the PUC over preserving railroad bridges reached an important climax, as Governor Tom Ridge ordered that PennDOT and the state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR) to work with the PUC in protecting these crossings where possible.
1997 was a big year for preparing connections, including the first allocation of funds for the Panhandle Trail(which connects with the Montour near McDonald) and purchase of a two-mile stretch of the former Peters Creek Branch in Clairton, closing the right-of-way gap between Clairton and Route 51 near the small community of Large. Two 100-foot truss bridges were obtained from the Wheeling-Pittsburgh steel mill in Monessen. Formation of a volunteer group of trail monitors helped to assure public safety along the t rail. By 1999 new segments had opened in Bethel Park, South Park, and Jefferson Hills.
In 2000, with monumental volunteer technical support, the Quicksilver Bridge was installed in Robinson Township, Washington County. Lighting was placed inside the Enlow Tunnel in Findley, providing a significant safety enhancement. Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) funding allowed installation of 16,000 tons of riprap to stablize the banks of Montour Run, stopping erosion of the Trail. The long-standing dispute with PUC over the bridges finally ended, removing a roadblock from numerous construction projects. More trail mileage opened in Bethel Park, McDonald, and Clairton. The first Burgh's Pizza & Wing Pub 10K Run was held in April 2001. This highly sucessful event continues to take place each spring along the trail in Cecil Township..
The McDonald Trestle, a 970-foot span often considered to be the most distinguishing feature of the trail, was opened with a TrestleFest celebration in September 2003. This opening finally created an unbroken 22-mile segment of trail extending southward from mile 0 in Moon, inspiring development of the MTC's annual fall Tour the Montour event.
Triumph turned to trouble in 2004, when storms from Hurricane Ivan wiped out nine miles of trail in September of that year. The MTC's dedicated volunteers and an outpouring of support from donors, however, allowed this damage to be repaired within a year. In October 2005 a grand, new Muse-Bishop bridge opened in Cecil, replacing one of the old railroad bridges removed under the PUC agreement. These years also saw the Montour Trail named a National Recreation Trail by the National Park Service, and establishment of a MTC Endowment Fund to assure continued funding for trail maintenance.
Recent years have seen the opening of the Panhandle Trail connector in 2006, and the gorgeous, secluded two-mile segment in Peters Township — including the Greer Tunnel and a bridge towering above Chartiers Creek — in 2008. To support the increase in long-distance riders that has come with the growth of the interconnected trail system, campsites were opened in 2009.
Construction efforts now focus on filling the remaining gaps along the southern portion of the trail, and working toward the final goal of an uninterruped 46-mile-long trail. A bridge was installed over over South Park Township's Piney Fork Creek in early 2010. After many years of diligent planning and fundraising, ground was broken for the J.R. Taylor Memorial Bridge, crossing Clifton Road in Bethel Park, in October 2010. In December 2010, the Montour Trail Council reached an agreement with MarkWest Energy Partners of Denver, Colorado, to build the three-mile Westland Branch, which will extend south from its intersection with the Montour Trail's main line in Cecil. Plans and funding are nearly complete to construct a connecting trail into Pittsburgh International Airport, enabling tourists to fly into Pittsburgh, set up their bikes, and take off on one of the most scenic suburban trails in the eastern United States.