Somerset County in Pennsylvania will launch construction in late August/early September 2020 of a 1.4-mile trail section beginning at the Garrett trailhead of the Great Allegheny Passage Trail, leading through the small borough of Garrett, and on to a former railbed. Later phases of construction will take the Trail north through Berlin and on to the Flight 93 National Memorial.
"We are so excited to break ground and start this work,” says Somerset County Parks and Trails Director Lindsay Pyle. “Our county commissioners have been extremely supportive of this project, they’ve been focused on it over the last five years or so.”
The new trail section will travel on road through the center of Garrett, then veer off onto the railbed, an abandoned CSX line, for a half mile. In 2015, 9/11 Trail founder David Brickley asked CSX Chairman Michael Ward to consider donating 130 acres and approximately 12 miles of the abandoned corridor, which the rail line had priced at $205,000. Ward agreed, and the gift of the corridor allowed Somerset County to apply a $500,000 Federal Lands Access Program Grant to trail construction rather than land acquisition. Additional funding has included $399,000 from Pennsylvania’s Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR) through its Community Conservation Partnerships Program grants.
“Thanks to the DCNR grant and excellent teamwork, the Alliance's efforts to build the 9/11 Trail across Pennsylvania are taking a major step forward,” Brickley says. “This new segment is a great example of governments, nonprofits and citizens working together. When completed, this will be a legacy link connecting the Flight 93 National Memorial with the Great Allegheny Passage, the Potomac Heritage National Scenic Trail and the Pentagon Memorial, as well as the route across Pennsylvania to the National September 11 Memorial & Museum.
The initial half mile of railbed proved to be a major hurdle and the project’s chief expense, Pyle says. The below-grade parcel had become wetlands complete with knee-high mud overgrown with high weeds and trees. The county purchased wetland mitigation credits, then enlisted the county jail inmate crew as well as the county trail maintenance staff to clear brush. “It finally looks like a trail,” Pyle says, “you can actually walk it.” With additional funding, design and engineering will begin on the future phases of the trail to Flight 93. Its approximately 20 total miles will require six bridges and further clearing.
“More people are starting to know about the 9/11 Trail,” says Pyle, a Somerset County native who returned to her hometown in 2019 for the parks and trails position, with a focus on building this stretch of the Trail. “Often you’ll hear about things being proposed that never actually come through. Over the last year, as we get close to breaking ground, we have seen growing support and excitement for this project.”
As envisioned, the September 11th National Memorial Trail travels a 1,300-mile loop through the mid-Atlantic, connecting the Flight 93 National Memorial to 9/11 memorials at the Pentagon and in New York City. The Trail offers local residents and visitors a safe, accessible opportunity to experience the outdoors, discover new towns, and visit historic sites of American resilience along the way.