In the dead of night, I sometimes awake to the muted sound of a train whistle. Strangely, there are no active rail lines in ear shot of our little trail town. While I am sure there is a logical explanation, it is not lost on me that a once-prosperous railway did run through town. In fact, its path along the scenic Allegheny River was even directed to snake up into the heart of Emlenton and along Hill Street in order to provide door-stop service to the millionaires who resided along that street a century ago. While that may not be seen as grand gesture today, it was a luxurious convenience in 1880. Today, since Hill Street is a block from my own home, I appreciate the fact that steam locomotives no longer cater to my neighbors.
That narrow gauge railway was eventually dismantled after it was purchased by a rival rail line based out of the neighboring town of Foxburg. The former Emlenton Shippenville and Clarion Railway is now part of a new trail that runs through town, the Allegheny River Trail. This route is part of the nation’s burgeoning rails-to-trails system. Instead of merchandise, coal dust, and noise, the current pathway brings peaceful visitors to our town looking to take in the scenery and purchase merchandise via clean and silent pedal-power. In the process of this railway transformation, a new gift has been given to Emlenton and other trail towns and cities throughout the nation.
Early November leaves begin to cover the Allegheny River Trail near Emlenton, Pennsylvania. Long ago, only the steam locomotive engineers and Native Americans knew the beauty of this path which winds alongside the National Wild and Scenic Allegheny River.
Personally, and I believe I can assert this is true for many of the residents of this little town, I did not realize the true potential of this gift.
When we moved here a few years ago, we certainly saw the Allegheny River Trail as one of the major selling points the town had to offer, however, I never considered using the trail for more than a brief bike ride, stroller walk, or dog walk to break up the day. Albeit, those everyday uses are priceless, but, the trail system is so much more. We moved here to live rent and mortgage-free to allow for more time with our children while freeing up resources to see more of the world. Ironically, once moving here, the desire to travel waned. These charming trail towns beckon you to stay and the hassle of highway and air travel, especially with young children, often cause us to abandon our plans before we begin. Why leave? There is so much to see and enjoy right here. Nonetheless, the world is a big place and as parents we know that it is indeed important to introduce it to our children. To broaden their horizons through travel allows them to learn from history, experience the wonders of the natural world and observe other cultures first-hand.
With that being said, who knew that the abandoned railways of long ago would bring a new way to travel? Just as a passenger train ambling through the countryside can provide a distinct and grand course to see the world, so, too, can the Rails-to-Trails passageways. Here in our neck of the woods, our 32-mile Allegheny River Trail is poised to become part of the Erie to Pittsburgh trail. From Pittsburgh, it is currently possible to bike the entire way to Washington DC by means of the Great Allegheny Passage trail. Via bike, a family can inexpensively travel from big cities to small towns along these ever-connecting byways that avoid traffic hazards. They can stay at big hotels or quaint inns and bed and breakfasts along the way or even camp alongside the trail. Their natural surroundings can be enjoyed at a slower pace and the experience itself combined with the sights along the way will no doubt provide an endless list of learning opportunities along with family bonding time.
So as the fall-to-winter chill sets in and urges us to seek the warmth of the indoors, plan your escape now. Before we know it, the spring thaw will be here and wanderlust will ensue. If you are lucky enough to live in a trail town, it is as easy as packing your panniers and peddling down the street to the nearest trailhead.
Looking to plan a Rails-to-Trails journey? These websites will inspire and assist:
Welcome guest blogger Dana Weber. Please check out her blog at www.emlenton.org