Major Trail Network Coming to the First Frontier Blair County

by | Jun 17, 2024 | News

For the first time our June 2024 edition of Voices from the First Frontier features an organization rather than an individual or small business. The Altoona Water Authority (AWA) is making a big impact on our mountain communities. Earlier this year, the AWA was recognized by the Pennsylvania Environmental Council (PEC) for its leadership in an acid mine reclamation project which will result in one of the largest outdoor recreational assets in the mid-Atlantic.  This promises to be big.

The summary below is attributed to the PEC team. The video they produced highlights the scope and significant positive impact of the project. Read on and watch to learn more.

AWA Recognized by Pennsylvania Environmental Council

Transforming a brownfield into a site for both clean drinking water and outdoor recreation takes teamwork, and the Altoona Water Authority has assembled an amazing team to remediate a site in Cambria and Blair counties. It’s a success story that earned the water utility company the Excellence in Partnership award at PEC’s 2024 Western Pennsylvania Dinner.

The Altoona Water Authority company purchased a plot of land in 2020 that, for the last century, had been the site of mining and timber operations, leaving swaths of barren land and polluted water.

“The water quality suffered tremendously for it,” said Katie Semelsberger, an engineering technician with Altoona Water Authority, who accepted the award at the Pittsburgh dinner.

The water utility company has partnered with various groups to clean up Kittanning Run, one of the streams draining the Allegheny Plateau. In 2022, Bryn Mawr College, looking for carbon offsets, funded and assisted with the planting of 188,000 trees. Reforestation will prevent soil erosion, reduce runoff, and improve water quality. Once it’s clean, the stream will provide 3.6 million gallons of drinking water per day.

“It’s a win-win for everybody,” Semelsberger said. “We’re improving our watershed, and they can reduce their carbon footprint.”

More About the Trail Network and Its Impact

Outdoor recreation assets such as trails, parks, waterways, and shared roadways are generally considered public or civic spaces. Their value and recognition for attracting and retaining people to a community has grown in recent years. This is especially true post pandemic. With increased demand for trails and trail development, municipal governments are incorporating and expanding these assets into their management and oversight operations. The availability and use of trails provides a positive economic impact and return on their development and maintenance.

The Opportunity

There is consensus among local business leaders and residents alike, that Blair County has a major opportunity to adopt a formal trail development program and strategy. Already the 6 to 10 Trail, the Lower Trail and Bells Gap Trail are popular destinations. Adding additional trails and trail connectivity is needed to establish Blair County as a multi-day trail destination.

Locations such as Ashville, NC and Connellsville, PA have developed and leveraged their trail assets for both tourism and sustained economic development impact over the past several decades. They and other trail towns like them now attract people from across the Country for overnight stays. Business owners often cite the trail and outdoor recreation experiences as the key reason they chose to locate in those communities.

The proposed Horseshoe Curve trail network on the Allegheny Plateau represents the largest trail opportunity for Blair County. The parcel represents one of the largest local municipal controlled land areas in the state of Pennsylvania. The project already has broad constituent support to include the City of Altoona, the AWA, and the Blair County Alliance for Business and Economic Growth.

A Vision for Use and Impact

Once completed, the Horseshoe Curve trail network could be one of the largest contiguous trail systems in the East. Major trail systems in our region like Rothrock and Allegrippis attract thousands of users each year. Other smaller yet high valued trails are also in development in Blair County which can offer multiple trail heads and nodes for visitors and residents to access and plan multi-day experiences within the County.

Supporters envision the Horseshoe Curve network becoming a hub of outdoor recreation-based economic development in the Southern Alleghenies, supporting regional resident and workforce attraction and retention, as well as regional outdoor-based tourism. Stay tuned friends for more. In the meantime, get out there and enjoy our mountain lifestyle.

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