fayette | Ohiopyle, PA Mile 71.9

FROM RAILROAD TO RECREATION: The story of the Great Allegheny Passage begins at Ohiopyle State Park, where a portion of the historic Western Maryland Railway launched a 150-mile world-class hiking and biking trail.

After most of the Western Maryland was abandoned in the 1970s, officials from the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and Ohiopyle State Park collaborated on a pioneering idea to covert the railroad line into a recreational trail through the scenic Youghiogheny River Gorge. The first miles of the rail-trail opened to the public in spring 1986.

Today, hikers and bikers traveling the 11 miles between Ohiopyle and the village of Confluence are tracing the original segment of the Great Allegheny Passage. Shaded by a lofty tunnel of trees, the level grade hugs the curves of the Youghiogheny River most of the way. Traces of early pioneer life are visible – native stone walls and old apple orchards – along with patches of old railroad ballast that serve as a reminder of the iron horse that previously cut through this river valley. The roar of the rapids, the crunch of bicycle tires rolling over crushed limestone and various bird songs are occasionally interrupted by the blasting horn of a CSX train chugging along the other side of the gorge.

As you come into the village of Ohiopyle, a former train station serves as a visitors center until the new center overlooking the Falls is opened in summer of 2014. Known as “Falls City,” George Washington was forced to turn back here on his first visit in 1753, declaring the river unnavigable because of the waterfalls. The area above the falls is popular for wading and just cooling off on a hot day. The trail continues across Ohiopyle Low Bridge to Ferncliff Peninsula, a National Natural

Landmark with rare plant species able to survive because the falls and the rapids that encircle the peninsula moderate the temperature extremes. Ohiopyle High Bridge, at the other end of the peninsula, is a favorite spot for watching the rafters in the rapids far below.

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Author: Jennifer Sopko