Over the past 11 years, Joey Klein, a trail specialist with the International Mountain Biking Association, has worked or ridden 6,000 miles of mountain bike trails in 35 states and 13 countries and, he said, he is constantly asked the same question.
"You ever ride Pennsylvania?"
The collaboration between Pennsylvania Kinzua Pathways, the Northern Allegheny Mountain Bike Association, IMBA and the Allegheny National Forest is in the initial stages to complete the proposed non-motorized, non-equestrian, human-powered trail project that will act as a gateway to mountain biking's newest members families and kids who are at the entry level of the sport.
Times Observer photos by Ben Klein
Possible trail discussed
In this photo, from left to right, Allegheny National Forest Recreation Specialist Mark Conn, Andy Georgakis of the Northern Allegheny Mountain Bike Association, Coralee Wenzel of Pennsylvania Kinzua Pathways, Joey Klein of the International Mountain Biking Association and ANF District Archeologist Gary Dunn discuss the possible placement of a biking and hiking trail near Dew Drop Campground in the Allegheny National Forest.
According to IMBA, there are 182 million participants worldwide who mountain bike, hike or view wildlife. When mountain bikers travel it is on average of almost five days in length with 45 percent of mountain bikers preferring to camp.
Allegheny National Forest District Ranger Tony Scardina said the project is part of the Southern Allegheny Reservoir Enhancement Project that will work to bring increased amenities and uses around the reservoir in a "careful and environmental way" to ensure respect for natural resources.
While members of IMBA work on possible trails throughout the national forest, Scardina said there is a process to the implementation of the trails.
Initially he had interacted with PKP and NAMBA to express their ideas and thoughts on creating a mountain bike and hiking trail. From there the trail specifications were created and "the most important thing in this initial process is to design a trail system that is user friendly," Scardina said.
There are still many steps along the way until work on the trails can begin. For example, a National Environmental Policy Act study that requires the ANF to analyze the economic, social and environmental impact of the project has to be completed, Scardina said.
After the NEPA study, a public comment session will follow to highlight the ideas and to receive and address concerns from citizens who may have objections to locations of trails due to other activities within the Allegheny National Forest.
On Thursday, Klein gave a walking tour through some proposed trail sites to Coralee Wenzel of PKP, Andy Georgakis of NAMBA and ANF District Archaeologist Gary Dunn and Recreation Specialist Mike Conn,.
Dunn said during the walking tour he was looking to see if there would be any possible disruptions to archaeological sites and said any objections would not kill the site plans, but may require modifications in some instances.
"We have to get past all the hurdles," he said.
In order to have a clear and tangible proposal for the public "the most important thing is to identify and put this design together to initiate NEPA and public comment," Scardina said
According to Conn, if the proposed mountain bike trail were to be built, it would be the first and only mountain bike trail specifically designed for the Allegheny National Forest.
He also said the project would have to be done in phases, which would require deciding what aspect of the trails would receive first priority.
The nearly 16 miles of trails will tentatively run from Big Bend access area, and follow the contour of the reservoir shoreline to the Dew Drop Campground area and end near Kiasutha.
While visiting Big Bend Access Area, Klein said the overlook and available parking were attractions, however, it could be a difficult spot to work with because of the approval needed from PennDOT. He said a trail and cross walk to the Bend Run Waterfall Access would also require PennDOT's approval.
Klein said he and his crew had spent the last week focusing on family trails that are "easier trails, really along the shoreline" that would be easy to navigate while keeping the contour of the land to create a roller coaster feeling on parts of the trail.
To reach the more difficult and technical trails, Georgakis said the easier trails will have to be established first and will act as a "gateway" to attract more mountain bikers and hikers.
In the future, there will be a "great canvas to make more challenging (trails)," he said.
While hiking near Dew Drop Campground, Klein said the scenery in such close proximity was a major aspect that would allow families to bike and hike while not straying to far from their camp site.
"Five minutes from a campground it's national park quality," he said, adding that if the proposal is passed, "We'll leave it like we never touched it."
Wenzel said working with IMBA and NAMBA was a "natural fit" as they both have the knowledge and expertise to accomplish the project.
The prospect of adding "armoring" or rocks on some sections on the trail, along with possible bridges for mountain bikers and hikers will create value to the people and the campgrounds, Klein said.
"If I was a visiting mountain biker, the experience is worth driving four to five hours," he said.
On Tuesday, PKP and NAMBA will host a public meeting at 6:30 p.m. in the Slater Room of Warren Public Library. The meeting will provide the public with information about the possible mountain biking and hiking trails, including the economic impact they have had on communities.