September 14, 2015
By Ryan Brown (rbrown@altoonamirror.com) , The Altoona Mirror

HOLLIDAYSBURG ­ You can set up a bicycle trail almost anywhere. “The trick is getting people to come try it,” Eric Brenner, a Maryland­based trail executive said. On Sunday morning, Brenner and colleague Andy Hamilton stopped at Hollidaysburg’s Canal Basin Park as they crossed the state to inaugurate a new trail network commemorating the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. Running hundreds of miles and passing through Cresson, Hollidaysburg and Huntingdon, the trail carries riders to the three sites of the attacks.

Screen Shot 2015-09-15 at 10.08.21 AMMirror photo by Ryan Brown

The Sept. 11 National Memorial Trail isn’t totally complete ­ long stretches are still on roads as developers seek off­road alternatives ­ but it’s already rideable, as Brenner, Hamilton and a group of central Pennsylvania riders demonstrated Sunday. Joined at times by colleagues, the men are riding the route both to check for dangerous spots and areas of concern, and to show that even “a couple of old guys” can make it across, Brenner said. With stops each night, their trip from Pittsburgh to New York City is set to take 11 days. “It’s a great ride,” he said.

Conceived days after the 2001 terrorist attacks and formally developed since 2004, the trail covers not only the plane crash sites in Washington, New York and Somerset County, but a collection of historic sites in the hundreds of miles between them. Stops and spurs at Gettysburg, Antietam, Md. and the Allegheny Portage Railroad, among others, reflect “the spirit of American patriotism, resilience and perseverance,” trail organizers wrote.

The trail essentially ties together existing trails, taking riders from Pittsburgh through Somerset County, including the Flight 93 National Memorial. A northern route crosses central Pennsylvania to Harrisburg, while a southern route is set to hook into the Great Allegheny Passage trail that already runs through Maryland. The recent offer of an unused railroad right­of­way from CSX, the rail company, will allow for a full connection, Brenner said. As the trail more firmly takes shape, bicyclists, hikers and other travelers will more easily swing through the Flight 93 memorial, the Pentagon and the site of the World Trade Center, according to the plan. “Right now we’re looking at about a 1,300­mile route,” said Karl King, vice president of Rails to Trails Central Pennsylvania and secretary of the group developing the Sept. 11 trail. “The concept is kind of like a pilgrimage trail. It’s not necessarily a point­A­to­point­B trail.”

With a newly finished visitors’ center at the Somerset County memorial, park officials have predicted hundreds of thousands will make at least part of the pilgrimage annually. And while the Sept. 11 trail touches broadly on American history back to the Revolutionary War, it is inexorably tied to the terorrist attacks. Among the trail’s directors are a firefighter who served at the World Trade Center and relatives of those who died in the 2001 attacks, Hamilton, a state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources trail adviser, said. “It’s one thing, you’re just biking around,” he said. “But it’s another to be with people like that.”

Mirror Staff Writer Ryan Brown is at 946­7457

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