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Youghiogheny River Trail Journal
By Jerry Pearl
Ohiopyle. What an unusual name for a town. It sounds like it should lie somewhere between Cincinnati and Cleveland. But, strangely enough, it belongs to Pennsylvania and this small village lies deep in the heart of the Youghiogheny River Valley, the jewel of the greater Laurel Highlands (southeast of Pittsburgh).
It is popular with hikers, rafters, kayakers, and almost anyone who has the fortune of visiting. More importantly, Ohiopyle is a rail-trail biker's paradise because it is home of the trailhead of the Yough River Trail, a granddaddy of rail-trails and an integral part of what will before long be an impressive joint bike path leading several hundred miles from Pittsburgh to D.C. Joined by my friend, Pork Loin, I recently spent a pleasant day biking the 17-mile portion between Ohiopyle and Connellsville, Pa. The other direction from Ohiopyle will take you 11 miles to Confluence, Pa.
Ohiopyle is a terrific town! It is both quaint and rustic, and two beautiful waterfalls flow within the town limits. There are many outdoor outfitters, a few restaurants, and places to sleep, be it indoors or outdoors. And within a short drive are Frank Lloyd Wright's masterpieces, Fallingwater and Kentuck Knob. If photography is your hobby, then you are sure to land some good pictures. You can set up a family Christmas photo overlooking the falls or easily track down a unique photo for a special gift.
To get to Ohiopyle, exit the Pennsylvania Turnpike at Donegal, where you will find a well marked points-of-interest sign after the tollboth. It will direct you to the left and on to PA 381 South. Just off the Turnpike, you'll find a few cool shops that sell Amish handmade hickory rocking chairs perfect for a porch or around a fireplace. As you head south, stay alert because the road curves and winds. Eventually, you will pass a steakhouse restaurant on your left, followed by railroad tracks. You have entered Ohiopyle. Cross the tracks and park in the large lot to your right. The trailhead is located at the far end of this lot.
We hopped on our bikes and rolled on to the trail. Though the river cuts through mountains the trail felt fairly flat (we didn't work much harder on the uphill route toward Connellsville than on the downhill, return route back to Ohiopyle). First, we crossed over a well-built wooden platform that lay atop an old railroad bridge rising high above the rushing whitewater of the "Yough." Below, kayakers carefully navigated the rocks in a swift current. Throughout the ride, the river remained on our right.
The trail was crushed stone upon a wide, hard-packed surface. A canopy of trees covered most of the trail but sunlight filtered through and warmed the bikers. The trail had once been a railroad bed painstakingly carved into a hillside. The hill rose high on our left, revealing trees and fern beds nurtured by the trickle of water over the faces of large rocks.
Around mile marker 20, the river widened and settled down, becoming lazy and quiet in its northern flow.
Not many wildflowers lined the trail, though in the more sunny spots we did see clusters of Queen Anne's Lace, fleabane and Ox-Eye daisies, white and pale Joe Pye weed, and large lobelia. Scattered along the route were some Pale Touch-Me-Nots and Wild Rose blossoms.
We approached a power generating plant as we entered the town of Connellsville. We crossed a couple of bridges, spotting below a horse corral sitting next to a school bus graveyard--quite a juxtaposition. Once upon the blacktop, we had the option of continuing on to Boston, Pa., about a 40-mile ride. Instead, we biked two blocks into town and headed for an access area on the river and took a dip to wash the stink off. It was a pleasant refresher before beginning our 17-mile return trip to Ohiopyle.
There is one spot where caution is required: A small speed bump at the edge of the lone paved road that crosses the 17-mile trail. Slow down and be careful not to fly off your bike and splatter against the pavement, as I did.
The average riding time for this round trip is 2.5 to 3.0 hours. An outing with family or friends makes for a great day outdoors. Bike rentals, including tandems, are plentiful. Mountain bikes, hybrids and road bikes can all be used, though road tires will not have as much bite on the packed gravel surface. For more information visit www.youghrivertrail.org.
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