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By Andrew Wagaman September 19, 2015
Eric Brenner has experienced a school assembly, a town picnic, a firetruck escort and American flags during his first week on the September 11 National Memorial Trail.
The meandering network of off-road trails and on-road connecting routes between Shanksville in western Pennsylvania and New York City remains a work in progress. But the test ride is already the historical, cultural and patriotic pilgrimage Brenner and others envisioned 14 years ago in the days following the Sept. 11 attacks.
Part of a larger 1,300-mile trail connecting the Pentagon Memorial in Washington, the Flight 93 National Memorial near Shanksville and the ground zero memorial in New York City, the Pennsylvania leg includes sections of the Schuylkill River Trail in Berks and Schuylkill counties.
Brenner, 57, ride leader and trail alliance board member, stopped by the Kernsville Dam Recreational Area in Hamburg on Thursday before continuing up the trail toward Pottsville.
He rode solo, constantly on the lookout for discrepancies between the mapped trail and reality. The Silver Spring, Md., man hopes to lead a few dozen riders on an official inaugural ride next year.
“I grew up in suburban Philadelphia, and it’s amazing how biking has grown in the state,” Brenner said. “I’ve seen so many people who aren’t serious riders out using the trails the past few days. That’s what we are trying to build on.”
While more than 60 miles of the Schuylkill River Trail have been built, there remains a nearly 20-mile gap between Reading and Hamburg and, in Schuylkill County, several smaller gaps between Auburn and Pottsville. The memorial trail will align with both areas.
The Schuylkill River Heritage Area is working to close those gaps, making it possible to ride from Philadelphia to Pottsville along the trail, an estimated 130 miles. But construction is contingent on land and money becoming available.
Silas A. Chamberlin, executive director of the Schuylkill River Heritage Area, said he hopes the memorial trail highlights the need to fill the gaps.
“We see this as a fitting memorial to all those who perished, and the heroic first responders, on September 11, 2001,” Chamberlin said in a release.
Brenner began his ride at the Great Allegheny Passage in Berlin, Somerset County, Sept. 10 and attended a ceremony at the new Flight 93 memorial near Shanksville.
The trail passes through or near many local memorials across the state, such as the Laurel Highlands Conservation Area, Johnstown Flood Memorial and Gettysburg National Military Park.
After stops in Allentown, Jim Thorpe and the Delaware Water Gap, Brenner plans to arrive Monday at the New York memorial.
Brenner said efforts continue to create a fully off-road trail connecting the three national memorials. In the meantime, he said, the memorial trail is raising awareness of trail gaps.
“There’s so much tourism potential,” he said. “The more you connect this up, the more people you’ll have staying in towns along the trail where there’s all this rich history.”
Contact Andrew Wagaman: 610-371-5095 or email@example.com.