Biking on a 238-mile rail trail from Parkersburg to Pittsburgh could become a reality in the next 10 years under a plan to link existing rail trails coordinated by the national Rails to Trails Conservancy.
The Parkersburg to Pittsburgh Trail, known as the P2P by those involved in its planning, is already about 80 percent complete, thanks to existing rail trails along its corridor. From Parkersburg to the Pennsylvania border, only 22 miles of the 155-mile trail — nearly all of it along abandoned railroad tracks — have yet to be connected.
Once the P2P is completed as far north as Connellsville, Pennsylvania, bicyclists can connect with the existing Great Allegheny Passage trail and ride to Cumberland, Maryland, for a link to the C&O Towpath Trail, which ends in Washington, D.C., or continue north to Pittsburgh on the completed GAP.
But links to Pittsburgh and Washington will just be the start of destinations for long-haul bicyclists 20 years from now. The P2P Trail is one of eight “mega-corridors” in the planned 1,500-mile Industrial Heartland Trails system of linked rail-trail routes stretching through 51 counties in western Pennsylvania, eastern Ohio, northern West Virginia and the southwestern corner of New York.
“Of all the mega-corridors, the Parkersburg to Pittsburgh corridor is most likely to be completed first,” with completion of the West Virginia segment leading the way, said Kelly Pack, director of trail development for the Rails to Trails Conservancy and a West Virginia University grad.
“The biggest challenge for this corridor will be making the connection from the Pennsylvania-West Virginia border to the Great Allegheny Passage trail,” a gap of 27 miles, said Pack. The Sheepskin Trail extending north from Point Marion to Connellsville and now under development, would fill that gap.
West Virginia’s missing gaps on the P2P include a 4.6 mile section through Fairmont, which will depart from an abandoned rail bed and loop through the city, connecting with the completed Mon River Trail and Marion County trails to the north and the West Fork River Trail to the south.
Between the completed West Fork River Trail and the Harrison North Rail Trail, a six-mile gap remains between the Harrison County communities of Spelter and Shinnston. Seven miles south of Shinnston, a 5.9-mile gap exists between the Harrison North Rail Trail and the 72-mile North Bend Rail Trail. At the southern terminus of the North Bend, a 5.2 mile gap remains to be linked to Point Park along the Ohio River in downtown Parkersburg.
Once complete, the Parkersburg to Pittsburgh trail will be the fourth-longest rail trail in the nation and is expected to attract riders from across the country, including many of the 800,000 bicyclists and hikers who travel the Great Allegheny Passage annually.
The GAP has an economic impact of $40 million annually on the communities through which it passes, Pack said.
In coming months and years, the Rails to Trails Conservancy will be “working with communities along the Parkersburg to Pittsburgh corridor to help them capture economic opportunities” and encourage exploration off the trail and into the towns along it, Pack said.
The trail should also prove popular with West Virginians, one-third of whom live within a few miles of the trail, “wanting to stay active and feel safe,” Pack said.
A presentation on the Parkersburg to Pittsburgh Rail Trail and the results of a new study on the processes needed to complete it will take place Tuesday, starting at 10 a.m., in the Steptoe & Johnson law office at 400 White Oaks Boulevard in Bridgeport.