“It’s a coordinating body that keeps it all working. But, it also just makes it so much easier. We’ve had groups come to us and say, ‘You know, you guys are really good at this. There’s this great opportunity. You’ve got to build this trail for us.’ Well, it doesn’t work like that. It’s like, ‘You can associate with us. You build your trail; you bring your expertise, your membership, your energy and you can take advantage of the tools in the box.”
-Malcolm Sias, July 31, 2019
Every trail has a story, and the same goes for the organizations that build it. Without volunteers and like-minded people trails like the Great Allegheny Passage (GAP) would not exist for the enjoyment of the public. Before the Allegheny Trail Alliance (ATA) existed, let alone the idea of trail groups along the Pittsburgh and Lake Erie Railroad right-of-way, there remained some spontaneous ideas of various county recreation affiliates that were inspired by the 9.5 miles of rail trail built in Ohiopyle State Park in 1986. The rail trail shortly after its conception became a huge hit to bicyclists and hikers alike, sending forward a particular example of what the future would hold for the rest of the right-of-way along the P&LE Railroad between Connellsville and McKeesport.
The “Toolbox” for Trailbuilders – Representatives from three counties came together – Allegheny/Westmoreland/Fayette — to develop the 43 miles of abandoned right-of-way property between McKeesport and Connellsville. The three counties did not want to accept responsibility for ownership/liability that would come with ownership of the trail. The committee did not want three different owners either, the county representatives wanted to work together so the trail would be constructed in the same way in each county and would look like one seamless trail. To resolve this dilemma, the committee investigated authorities, nonprofit corporations, etc. that they could form to shoulder liability, development cost, and trail management.
“[The trail committee] all talked about how to go about this. And, what we were really afraid of was that over 43 miles in three different counties – we didn’t want each county to just do their own thing because we saw a huge difference in the three counties. [W]e were all very committed to the idea that if you got on the trail in McKeesport, and you rode 43 miles and you’re going south, we didn’t want you to know when you crossed the county line. We wanted the entire 43 miles to basically look the same, be developed the same, be constructed the same, we wanted the signage to be the same. We wanted it all to be totally, completely consistent. So, we were all in agreement that there should be one organization that planned, developed and managed the trail.”
–Malcolm Sias, July 31, 2019
The committee representatives decided upon a 501(c)(3) corporation, wrote bylaws, established a memorandum of understanding between counties, and incorporated it officially in 1991. There was a meeting with legal counsel from all three counties to develop bylaws for the organization, but there was no agreement made. Malcolm Sias took all the ideas from the meeting, drafted the bylaws, ran it by Westmoreland County’s solicitor, then by the other two counties. After a few minor changes, all three counties adopted the bylaws for the creation of the Regional Trail Corporation (RTC). The bylaws were written to set up an 18-person Board of Directors – six from each of the three counties, with 3 being appointed by the County Commissioners and 3 being elected at large in 1991. Around the same time a vision of “friends groups” organized geographically along the trail to deal with maintenance and management issues was outlined and agreed upon and the Trail Chapters/Councils began to form. The original trail councils consisted of the Mon-Yough Trail Council in Allegheny; Westmoreland Yough (West Newton) Trail Chapter in Westmoreland and Yough River Trail Council in Fayette. Yough River Trail Council was previously established and maintained the Ohiopyle section prior to RTC’s formation.
“[The trail chapters] all work together. Separate organizations cost money on an annual basis to maintain as separate accounting, tax forms, auditing and all those things are required of each. By partnering all those things are covered one time by the RTC and all the chapters are included. We also share work so it does not have to be duplicated. We don’t have to keep reinventing the wheel. All of our trails operate under the same set of rules.”
-Malcolm Sias, July 31, 2019
By having each Board of County Commissioners appoint 3 members to the RTC Board it was assumed that each County would stay heavily involved in the RTC and continue to assist with the management & maintenance of the trail. Counties have full time staff in Public Works, Parks, Planning, Conservation Districts, etc. that could provide valuable knowledge and assistance. Later when the Five Star Trail Chapter was formed in Westmoreland the RTC set up agreements with each municipality along the trail corridor and incorporated them into the Boards of the Chapters by allowing each municipality and the County to appoint one member of the Board. The RTC never thought much about the municipalities when the first Articles of Association for Trail Chapters were written. They did have cooperation and assistance from some – Elizabeth Township Public Works constructed a section of trail for us working with Allegheny County and there may have been others that assisted in various ways.
Trail Chapters of Regional Trail Corporation
- Steel Valley Trail Council- Allegheny Co.
- Mon/Yough Trail Council- Allegheny Co.
- Westmoreland Yough Trail Chapter- Westmoreland Co.
- Whitsett-Fayette Trail Chapter-Fayette Co.
- Yough River Trail Council-Fayette Co.
Other Trails under RTC Jurisdiction:
- Coal & Coke Trail Chapter- Westmoreland/Fayette Co.
- Five Star Trail Chapter- Westmoreland Co.
- Westmoreland Heritage Trail Chapter- Westmoreland Co.
Each county helped the other. Fayette County did not have a parks department and the other counties had to make up for their lack of resources and capacity. (Fayette County actually never paid their share for the corridor acquisition.) Without the three counties working together, it is unlikely that the 43 miles of the Yough River Trail North would have been built. This model of inter-county/inter-trail group cooperation became the premise of the Allegheny Trail Alliance in 1995.
Below are examples of what RTC covers for the trail chapters along with chapter responsibilities. Some responsibilities do overlap in specific instances, with each task having a mutual benefit to the individual trail chapters, counties involved, and RTC as an organization. This cooperative structure is largely responsible for the organization’s success.
- Purchase & own land for trail development
- Purchase liability insurance for all land & facilities
- Purchase liability insurance for trail volunteers
- Provide Directors and Officers insurance for the RTC Board and Chapter Boards
- Annual Audit and Tax Returns
- Receive and spend membership dues
- Maintain the trail
- Maintain trail equipment
- Mow along the trail
- Trim brush, trees, etc to maintain trail corridor
- Monitor the trail
- File monthly report on monitoring
- Look for trail encroachments
- Maintain trail parking areas
- Install trail amenities
- Maintain trail amenities (benches, bulletin boards, fences, signs, etc.)
Equally Shared Responsibilities
- Account for funds raised or collected
- Audit funds raised or collected
- Coordinate with municipalities/counties
- Inform municipalities/counties
- Provides trail maps / brochures
- Funds trail maintenance materials
Shared Responsibilities – RTC Leads
- Fund land acquisition for trails
- Fund trail construction
- Coordinate/manage major trail renovations
- Fund major trail renovations (every 10 or so years)
- Repair/maintain trail bridges and road crossings
- Renovate trail bridges and road crossings
- Purchase land for trail maintenance facilities
- Insure trail equipment
- Fund staff
- Hire and oversee staff
- Develop and maintain a depository of trail information and trail reference library
- Develop membership system for use by all chapters
- Deal with trail encroachments
- Deal with trail crossings for pipelines, driveways, etc.
- Funds legal fees or surveying as needed to resolve land disputes
- Develop State grant applications
- Develop grant applications to foundations and corporations
- Develop public relations package to tell story of all trails in RTC
- Develop website
- Maintain and update website
- Fund installation of permanent restrooms along the trail
Shared Responsibilities– Chapters Lead
- Recruit new members
- Provide and update membership brochures
- Fund the purchase of major trail equipment
- Fund the purchase of trail hand tools, chain saws, etc.
- Fund the maintenance of trail equipment
- Fund contracted trail maintenance
- Fund/construct trail maintenance facility building
- Fund expenses for trail maintenance buildings
- Inspect trail bridges and road crossings
- Train volunteers in trail maintenance
- Train volunteers in trail monitoring
- Promote good neighbor relations
- Talk to trail users / provide information
- Educate trail users about trail rules
- Coordinate and distribute newsletters to members and trail sponsors
- Enforce trail rules
- Coordinate with local law enforcement
- Update bulletin board content
- Fund trail amenities (benches, bulletin boards, signs, etc.)
- Fund portable toilet facilities along the trail
- Maintain restrooms along the trail
- Pay to pump out the restrooms along the trail
- Pay for water along the trails, if required
- Pay utilities at trail restrooms
- Recruit sponsors for trail events
Author: Original Content by Malcolm Sias, Edited into Narrative by Reed Hertzler
 Malcolm Sias (Westmoreland Parks and Recreation Director, Personal interview about the formation of the Regional Trail Corporation and its relationship to the Allegheny Trail Alliance), interviewed by Avigail Oren, Greensburg, PA, July 31st, 2019. Transcript: “Malcolm Sias_Edited Final 10-14-2019,” 14.
 “Trail History: Milestones,” Great Allegheny Passage, Great Allegheny Passage, January 6th, 2020, https://gaptrail.org/about-us/trail-history.
 Malcolm Sias, Transcript: “Malcolm Sias_Edited Final 10-14-2019,” 6-7.
 Malcolm Sias, Transcript: “Malcolm Sias_Edited Final 10-14-2019,” 13-14.