Three Rivers Heritage Trail | Photo by Kelly Carter, courtesy of Friends of the Riverfront
The Industrial Heartland Trails Coalition is collaborating to complete and connect a system of 1,500+ miles of shared use trails. The goal is to connect the trail network so that local and visiting trail users can walk and bike from trail to trail, city to city, and town to town. The system is 48% complete, linking 51 counties and four states creating a premiere trail destination.
Communities in western Pennsylvania, northern West Virginia, eastern Ohio and the south-western corner of New York have a shared past, present and future of innovation, steel, agriculture and manufacturing. Through IHTC’s initiative, these states will share reinvention, renewal, and innovation once more.
To view an interactive map showing all of the region’s trails – including existing, planned, and proposed routes – visit gototrails.com.
Imagine the power of a connected 1,500-mile network! IHTC was formed to harness and amplify the benefits of trails. IHTC envisions a network of trails that stretch from the shores of Lake Erie to the confluence of Three Rivers in Pittsburgh and on to the Ohio River in the Appalachian foothills of West Virginia. The connected off-road trail system will allow locals and visitors to explore the small towns, major cities, historic sites, rivers and mountains that characterize America’s first frontier. In this region, one discovers the birthplace of America’s industrial revolution.
54 GAPS SHORT OF 1,500+ MILES. This vast region abounds with trails. A 1,500+ mile network of connected trails, now 48% complete, is envisioned to propel the region and trail users forward. The completed network would make up the largest shared use trail system in North America. Trail users would choose their own adventure (a day? a week? a month?). The possibilities are endless. The benefits range from health and wellness to environmental conservation to economic prosperity.
The challenge? Fifty-four connectivity gaps, roughly 700 miles in all, have been identified. In many cases, these are the hardest parts, those sections of trail that haven’t been tackled for a reason. The most common challenges are land acquisition, funding, and engineering/physical impediments.
BIG GAINS IN CONNECTIVITY. The good news is we have a baseline. With a 2014 connectivity analysis, we’ve mapped the 54 gaps, and working groups are busy studying them. Over 700 miles of incomplete trail may sound daunting, but many of the gaps are short in distance. Nearly 75% of the gaps are 15 miles or less, and 8 of the 54 are 2 miles or less. Completing some of these short gaps will result in big gains in connectivity:
The solution will be to activate passionate people to create new trail groups in some areas, acquire rights-of-way and find funding for the more challenging sections such as bridges and tunnels.
The Industrial Heartland Trails Coalition builds upon past efforts to organize the trails community and stimulate the regional economy. The coalition grew out of the “Power of 32” regional visioning project, which identified the completion of a comprehensive regional trail network as one of its primary goals. Trail building groups had joined together previously in the early 2000s, at the Tri-State Trails Initiative to discuss many of the same connections.
The new coalition, gathering since 2011, has been formed to realize that vision. Coalition members have worked in earnest over the last few years to define the trail corridors, identify gaps in the trail network, and to develop the mapping technology to support the overall effort. The Pennsylvania En- vironmental Council, National Park Service Rivers, Trails and Conservation Assistance Program and Rails-to-Trails Conservancy, have been key coordinators of this diverse group. See our Project Time- line for a closer look at how the coalition came together:
The Industrial Heartland Trails Coalition renamed itself in early 2015 following an extensive branding process. The 48-county area includes mountains; rivers and streams; farmland; national and state parks; urban and rural settings; industry; and one of the Great Lakes, Erie.
While the geographic “heartland” may be west of here, a rich extractive and manufacturing history allows us to make the “industrial heartland” statement. An industrial legacy is evident on almost any trail in the region.We bike and jog along old coke ovens, repurposed railroad viaducts, and smoke- stacks-turned-landmarks. Most of the trails themselves make use of converted rail corridors and canal towpaths. Overall, the blend of paying homage to our industrial heritage and a down-to-earth approachability led us to our name.