Rail trail a perfect place for fun

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tunnel on Allegheny River Trail
A favorite feature of the Allegheny River Trail are the tunnels which greet hikers with eerie darkness. (Julie Geiss photo)

As an early riser, I prefer to enjoy my morning coffee at sunrise. The first hint of a new day is a soft glow that turns into small glints of brightness.

The first rays of sunshine are getting later these days, a sure sign of autumn steadily approaching. I’m not quite ready to focus on the three R’s yet — reading, writing, and ‘rithmatic can wait a little longer.

The three B’s

I have decided the three B’s of summertime need equal status: birthdays, berries and bicycles.

I am a child of summer, born in the high heat of July, proud to share my birthday month with our great nation. Although this year, our Fourth of July celebration was quite different. Cousins still twirled sparklers in the night air, but a somber mood permeated otherwise festive activities.

Our family stayed home and watched fireworks in our driveway instead of reclining in the grass at Blossom Music Center. John Phillip Sousa’s Stars and Stripes Forever still played in the background but instead from a recording. The lyrics are a reminder for my family and our fellow countrymen, “Hurrah for the flag of the free! May it wave as our standard forever.”

While strawberries were ready for our patriotic celebration, our blueberries were still green orbs clustered on the bushes. Our blueberries are my annual birthday gifts, guarded from the birds and saved for sweet treats. After a morning of picking the recently ripened blueberries, I decided we needed an activity to beat the summer heat.

Allegheney River Trail

We loaded all six bikes on our SUV and headed east to Emlenton, Pennsylvania. In Emlenton, the Allegheny River Trail runs 32 miles to Oil City, allowing visitors glimpses of the river and into local history.

The railroad industry in the United States began in the early 1800s and expanded greatly after the Civil War. Businesses, farms and families relied on railways for transporting goods and for traveling. Railroads were the arteries and veins of our country, carrying and delivering goods from one coast to another.

After this form of transportation “fell by the wayside,” many rail corridors were abandoned. Locals began to walk the tracks and the possibility for recreational use was apparent. Today, the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy has a mission, “to create a nationwide network of trails from former rail lines, connecting corridors to build healthier places for healthier people.” Over 23,000 miles of abandoned rail corridors have transitioned to multi-use trails.

Tunnels and waterfalls

Like most rail trails, the Allegheny River Trail is very flat and this section is also shaded with exceptional views of the Allegheny River. Our favorite features of the Allegheny River Trail are the tunnels which greet us with eerie darkness.

Headlamps, flashlights or bike lights are needed to illuminate the path. Three lines of reflectors increase visibility. The first tunnel, half a mile in length, is located six miles from the trail head in Emlenton. Just after the tunnel and parking lot on Rockland Station Road, we took a right turn and went half a mile upstream, following a tributary called Shull Run. This very isolated section of Rockland Township is also home to Freedom Falls, a 20-foot waterfall, and the remains of the Rockland Furnace. We took our time cooling off in the frigid plunge pool under the waterfall. The beauty of the two adjacent waterfalls was astounding.

After walking down the creek 100 feet or so, my kids began to hunt for treasure. In front of the furnace, they were looking for slag glass, a byproduct of coal production. These relics are reminders of the area’s past success in iron production. As much as five tons of iron were produced every 12 hours by the Franklin Furnace crews from 1832-1854. Crews worked continuously around the clock only blowing out the furnace for necessary repairs.

After a dip in the comparatively warmer Allegheny River, we once again rode our bikes heading back to Emlenton. Along the water’s edge we spotted deer and numerous orioles flew over the bike path keeping us alert and connected to the nature that surrounded us.

Soon it will be time to dust off the school books and learn that hardships and conflicts were catalysts for change and then prosperity in our country’s history.

Abandoned railways have transitioned to recreational trails leading us to healthier lives. Sour berries mature into sweet delights at the perfect time. We can be encouraged by the truth that every river ebbs and flows, growth follows pain, and joy comes after the night.

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Julie Geiss lives with her husband and four children in Unity Township, Ohio. Faith and family are first in her life, but she also loves hiking, biking and camping. You can contact Julie at juliegeiss1414@gmail.com.

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