A period of public comment is under way for a planned mountain bike trail in McKean and Warren counties meant to drum up area tourism by drawing biking enthusiasts from as far away as Cleveland, Buffalo, N.Y., and Pittsburgh.
Organizers of the Trails at Jakes Rocks project representatives of the U.S. Forest Service, Allegheny National Forest and local tourism groups gathered inside the Frame-Westerberg Commons Building at the University of Pittsburgh at Bradford on Tuesday night to answer public questions about the $1.6 million project, bringing 42 miles of mountain biking trails near the Allegheny Reservoir from Mead Township in Warren County to Hamilton Township in McKean County.
Among the attendees was Chris Hobbs of the Pennsylvania Kinzua Pathways, the group securing funding for the project to cover construction and maintenance costs through a variety of state, federal grants and private donations.
Hobbs said the planned mountain bike trail was part of a larger proposal aimed at revitalizing the Allegheny Reservoir area through emphasized recreational opportunity. The project is expected to make the area a regional tourist destination and bring thousands to the region each year in looking for a slice of $730 billion spent in America annually on outdoor recreation, according to Hobbs, of which $133 billion is contributed to the economy through bicycling.
For his part, Frank Maguire, Mid-Atlantic regional director with the International Mountain Bicycling Association (IMBA), a project consultant, said the location represented a unique opportunity.
"There's nothing like it in a three-hour radius from here. Three hours means people will come and stay overnight. The population centers nearby, places like Cleveland, Buffalo, Pittsburgh, those are all pretty under-served for trails. There aren't a lot of public lands in those places, but there are a lot of people," Maguire said.
Maguire said marketing the trail will involve publicizing the trail's selling points including vistas and varying degrees of difficulty to IMBA's 80,000 constituents and 11 million mountain bikers nationally.
The design process included revisions and angling the trail to avoid water collection, runoff and erosion.
Project manager Steve Dowlan of the U.S. Forest Service said the Allegheny National Forest budget woes forced a limiting of the project scope from multiple facets surrounding Kinzua Dam to one.
Those same budget woes and time constraints resulted in the project using paid interns from Pitt-Bradford, Clarion and Indiana, Pa. universities to study the project's environmental impact.
Dowlan said archaeology studies result in no significant or surprising finds while there were special plant communities that the project must work around.
Victor Robertazza, an environmental studies student at Pitt-Bradford, was among the project interns who helped to compile environmental data on the trail location.
Robertazza helped to conduct last year's environmental survey along federal guidelines, with a focus on ensuring the trail does not disturb rare plants, or lands revered by the Seneca Nation of Indians.
Robertazza said he is a mountain biking enthusiast in support of the "community developed project" and looks forward to using the trail once completed.
"This is all grassroots. The community wanted it and we're starting to see the snowball effect. It's really starting to sprawl. I think it's a great community project," he said.
After the public scoping portion is complete, Dowlan said students will then draft the environmental analysis under Forest Service guidelines.
If there are no objections, the ANF supervisor will sign off and allow the trail to be built.
A second public comment hearing will be held in Warren from 6 to 9 p.m. Wednesday at the Holiday Inn.
After public comment, Hobbs said the planners will revisit bids and hope to have final approval and break ground by next year. The first phase will consist of 17 miles of trail.