Sunday, May 06, 2007

Trail hoppin'

Even though I bicycle commute all winter long, today was the first chance of the season to get back out on the Great Allegheny Passage. Normally, I would consider this a very late start because I've been riding from here to DC over Memorial Day weekend, coming up in only a few weeks. But this year, my wife has decided to go to Marcon that weekend, which is in Ohio, and thus would not be able to pick me up at the end of my ride in DC. That ride has been put off while other plans are made. That will also allow me more opportunity to do long rides and get in shape.

Anyway, back to the trail today. I started as I normally do in Little Boston a little later than I should have liked. I left the trail at Smithton to climb the hill to the Olive Branch Cemetery and it's historical marker commemorating the Darr Mine disaster of 1907 wherein 239 miners died in an underground explosion. That kind of death toll is almost staggering but pales in comparison to the 3000 miners that lost their lives in that December industry wide.

The marker was stage one of a multi-stage geocache which eventually brought me back down to the trail and the location of the Darr Mine itself just outside of Van Meter. Dirt has been piled up in front of the entrance but the mine hasn't been sealed. While I was there, a groundhog came scurrying down the hillside and ran straight into the entrance so the mine is still in use.

On the way back on the north end of Van Meter, a pair of ATVs crossed the
trail. There are mine tailings and the moonscapes are popular places for
dirtbikes and ATVs. Unfortunately, these rednecks also ride their machines
on the trail, causing significant damage. And it's nearly impossible to get
law enforcement on-site to do anything about it. I have heard that the
Maryland section of the trail had a part-time officer out of Frostburg who would patrol the trail on his bike. His presence had a significant effect on ATV use of the trail. There was talk of eliminating that position and a move by trail users to prevent that from happening. What is really needed is more cops on bikes patrolling the trail, especially those places where ATVs are causing problems. Especially on weekends. Their even occasional presence would go a long way towards controlling damage to the trail.

I noticed that there are two new bike/canoe rental places just outside of Boston. People are gearing up to get in on a piece of the action now that the trail is complete between McKeesport and DC. I just read an article that they are building a campsite in Connellsville. This will include a caboose to have people out of the elements.

Some other random observations:

Most people do no wear helmets when riding bikes on the trail. This includes children who, by law, should be wearing helmets.

Of those who do wear helmets, a significant number wear them incorrectly, typically way back on their heads. One woman I saw had her helmet on backwards.

There was one man riding without a shirt. I was immediately reminded of a silverback Mountain Gorilla. That was one hairy guy.

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