In the 1980s, a group of friends in Pittsburgh began to have regular bike rides on the railroad ballast that became the Great Allegheny Passage (GAP). One member of the group, Lloyd Cunningham, convinced the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad that they would benefit by rail banking their abandoned rail line so that it would be preserved in case it needed to be resurrected as a railroad at some point in the future. Kenny Steinberg helped with pro bono legal work to secure the rights of way for many properties on the former railroad line, especially since many local property owners were unofficially using their slice of former abandoned railroad property, extending their backyards and building sheds and lodges. Cunningham also negotiated an agreement with Continental, the developer of the Waterfront shopping complex, to preserve a 25-foot setback from the Monongahela River in Homestead and Munhall as space for a riverfront trail. West Homestead officials and the owners of Sandcastle were not receptive to the idea, so the trail leaves the riverside at the west end of Homestead, rejoining the river two miles later in Baldwin.
During a few years in the early 2000s, the SVTC operated under the auspices of the Steel Industry Heritage Corporation (SIHC), now known as Rivers of Steel, and frequently met at the headquarters of the SIHC in the historic Bost Building in Homestead. The SVTC became their own independent 501(c)(3) apart from the SIHC in 2010. Jack Paulik, the Allegheny Trail Alliance’s “Gaps in the GAP” project manager, handled most of the negotiations and project management for the Steel Valley section of the GAP, while Linda M. Boxx handled acquisition of the funding needed to buy bridges, excavate and pave the trail, add signs, and more.
The SVTC not only takes care of the usual maintenance activities — mowing the verges, trimming overhanging vegetation, and clearing leaves, dirt, and rock from the asphalt trail. It also takes care of the heavier repairs, such as cutting fallen trees, opening large clogged storm drains, digging the mud out of the drainage ditches, and clearing landslides from the trail surface. In order to do all of this, the SVTC needs many small tools, a riding mower, and a front end loader tractor. SVTC’s current wish list includes an excavator, a dump truck, and a maintenance building. With no budget from Allegheny County or the local municipalities, the SVTC uses funds donated by its members and writes grants to buy the equipment needed to keep the trail in great shape.
The SVTC’s major event each year is the Raptor Row Ride, which takes place each April. The ride leads groups to active raptor nests, where professional birders tell riders about the birds they might see through their binoculars, like bald eagles, ospreys, great horned owls, red-tailed hawks and kestrels.
Most of the trail maintenance is handled by a small group of volunteers who go out every Wednesday morning, though if there’s an emergency — a fallen tree or a landslide blocking the trail — volunteers will quickly clear the problem any day of the week. Several times per year volunteer groups such as West Mifflin teachers or BNY Mellon or KU Resources employees will spend a day helping cut vegetation, rake and bag leaves, and install fencing.
To learn more about the Steel Valley Trail Council you can visit their website at: https://steelvalleytrail.org/.
SVTC 2020 Officers:
Jerry Green, President
Bob Holder, 1st Vice President
Paul Heckbert, Secretary
Earl Novendstern, Treasurer
Author: Reed Hertzler with contributions from SVTC