Work on a long-awaited Ernst Trail extension — adding two new miles of scenic pathway for the use of recreational hikers and bikers — is scheduled to begin soon.
“The contractors are mobilizing and getting established this week in order to start moving dirt next week,” said David Shafer, president of Trailmark Ltd. “Weather permitting, construction should begin as early as Monday.”
At a cost of $601,783, the extension will be added to the existing five-mile trail from the current Krider Trailhead by Krider Road. The work is estimated to be completed by next spring and will be paid entirely with federal funds, according to Pennsylvania Department of Transportation spokesperson Jim Carroll.
The announcement came through the PennDOT office, since that agency was involved in the permitting process.
“Ernst Trail received transportation enhancement funding,” said Susan Smith, regional planning manager for the Northwest Regional Planning and Development Commission, noting the most recent grant for the project was awarded in 2005. “This project has been in the works for some time.”
“It’s an extremely well-used trail,” said Shafer. “It not only offers races, but provides a variety of activities like general fitness and nature walks.”
The new trailhead will be constructed off of Bailey Road near its intersection with South Watson Run Road and is expected to include parking and access, according to Kandy Davis, treasurer of French Creek Recreational Trails Inc., project sponsor for the extension. Ernst Trail, including the new extension area, is entirely in Vernon Township. One popular entry point is near Bean’s Auto, across Route 322 from the Park Avenue Plaza, less than a mile from Meadville’s city limits.
“It will be pretty much the same uniform as the trail is today,” said John Lee of J.C. Lee Construction and Supply Co., Petrolia. “It will mostly be cleaning and grubbing with a little bit of pipework.”
Groundwork will also include a new style of gravel surface, as well as drainage and fencing in addition to the landscaping, according to a PennDOT release.
The original paved trail sits on a train rail bed, dating back to the 1880 Meadville-Linesville Railroad, later leased by the Bessemer & Lake Erie Railroad Co. in 1891.
“Some areas of the extension will be located on lands other than the rail bed,” said Shafer. “It’s taken easements of the nearby property owners. Some were uninterested in prospects of the extension.”
Pond and wetlands
As a result, the extension will divert from the rail bed and enter a field where it will cross a small pond and wetlands before coming to the Bailey Trailhead.
The alternate route is expected to provide more variation for bike riders, allowing them different scenery throughout the altogether seven miles of trail, according to Shafer.
“We’re already prepared to deal with wetlands from the studies done on the trail,” he said. “All of the engineering controls will be set in place to prevent erosion, including rain gardens to catch runoff and sediments.”
Construction entrances are also being set in place to move equipment freely to and from the digsites.
“Asphalt costs have increased so tremendously, we’re using a trail surface aggregate mix which will provide a solid, smooth surface,” said Shafer.
Shafer says the mix, developed at Penn State University, is fairly new, but has been successful where used.
“We have great expectations it will be a good surface for the almost two miles of extended trail,” said Shafer.
The completed trail extension will be christened with a ribbon-cutting ceremony, courtesy of French Creek Recreational Trails, according to Davis.
“The bulk of the construction should be done within the next couple months,” said Shafer. “So an estimated completion time of spring 2013 is pretty much in line with all of the details, like the rock dams and rain gardens.”
New trees will be planted as well; not only for trail beautification, but to provide basic privacy for landowners allowing use of their property for the extension, Shafer added.
The trail’s story doesn’t end here, however.
“Hopefully by the time the extension is done, plans will be formalized for the trail to stretch to Bicentennial Park in Meadville,” said Shafer.
Other trail news ...
The Titusville Queen City Trail Project is getting more than $600,000 in funding.
The Northwest Rural Transportation Organization, which covers Clarion, Crawford, Forest, Venango and Warren counties, on Thursday said it has awarded the project $614,500.
The project will help close the remaining gap in the Erie-to-Pittsburgh Trail, one of Pennsylvania’s highest greenways priorities.
The two-phased project will construct an extension to the completed segment of the Queen City Trail with first phase taking the trail from its current terminus at South Martin Street to a natural ending past the Perry Street Station in Titusville.
The second phase will continue the trail to the planned trailhead at Wal-Mart along Route 8, north of Titusville.
The project will provide a safe, alternative route for pedestrian and bicycle traffic, separating them from vehicular traffic along Route 8 between downtown Titusville and Wal-Mart.
Konstantine Fekos can be reached at 724-6370 or by email at email@example.com.