The final public meeting regarding the master site plan for the West Creek Recreational Trail, a planned Rails-to-Trails corridor between St. Marys and Emporium, was held Wednesday evening at St. Marys City Hall. The final plan will now be sent to the state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR) for review.
According to Michelle A. Brummer, environmental planner for Gannett Fleming, Inc., the proposal is for a trail along an abandoned 19-mile segment of railroad that is now owned by the West Creek Recreational Trail Association, Inc.
"It runs from Emporium to St. Marys along West Creek and there are portions of it along Route 120," Brummer said. "The uses proposed for this are walking, biking, cross-country skiing and snowmobiling in the appropriate seasons."
ATV use will not be permitted on the trail.
Brummer explained that the development process for the master site plan included meetings with the West Creek Recreational Trail Association, Inc., as well as two informational sessions that were held last fall in St. Marys and Emporium.
A feasibility study was also conducted for the project, and Brummer said it indicated that there is a need for safe, accessible recreational trails in St. Marys and Emporium.
"As far as close-to-home recreational facilities, there are some parks. There are actually several parks here in St. Marys and just a couple parks in Emporium, but they really focus on playgrounds and sports fields. It doesn't do anything for fitness walking, walking for health, walking to observe nature, or study of nature, which are also recreational activities," Brummer said.
At the same time, there are still a number of challenges that still need to be addressed, she noted.
"We do have potential conflicts. We've got a number of highway and street crossings, so [we've had to address] how we manage trail crossings of those highways and roadways. We still need to permit emergency vehicle access, so it's not like we can block those entrances altogether. We need to have access for ambulance or police to be able to get onto the trail if necessary and we've got some bridges that are not in ready-to-use condition," Brummer said.
Jeff Ream, an engineer for Gannett Fleming, Inc., explained that items considered in the study included potential trail surfaces and necessary safety upgrades to bridges along the trail.
"This study was not a full-blown engineering study," Ream said. "This isn't final design. We looked into these engineering aspects to the level that we needed to in order to develop a good budgetary cost estimate for future funding. That future funding then will address final design and construction of the project."
Additionally, the proposed project will have three trailheads, located in St. Marys, Emporium and Rathbun. Each trailhead is expected to have a parking area that will accommodate between 50 to 75 vehicles.
For more on this story, see the Nov. 18 edition of The Daily Press.