Clarion commissioners want to close trail gap

Clarion County commissioners are trying to close the gap on the Pittsburgh to Erie Trail.

That gap is the East Brady tunnel, and commissioners signed a letter of intent at their meeting Tuesday for funding that would be a major boost for the tunnel project.

Chris Ziegler, executive director of the Armstrong Trails, said the tunnel project was included in a Pennsylvania Wilds proposal and was selected as a finalist in the U.S. Economic Development Administration’s Build Back Better Regional Challenge for $75 million to supercharge the economy.

Ziegler said the tunnel project includes shotcrete, lighting inside the tunnel, interpretive signage, parking and trail surface material.

The 2,468-foot-long East Brady railroad tunnel was completed in 1915. After the tunnel was abandoned, portions of the ceiling deteriorated and the floor of the tunnel was flooded. In addition, the entry to the tunnel was in danger of collapse.

The project has repaired the entrance and placed a liner in the tunnel to stabilize the ceiling. The floor of the tunnel has been drained and water has been diverted from entering the tunnel in the future.

The 36-mile-long Armstrong Trail is located on the former Allegheny Valley Railroad line along the eastern bank of the Allegheny River in Armstrong and Clarion counties. When the tunnel was closed it separated the northern 4.5 miles of trail from the southern 31 miles of the trail.

Ziegler said the tunnel is a “connective tissue to the other component application within the PA Wilds region and activates an economic driver toward rebirth of communities from distressed coal towns to outdoor towns (river and trail towns).”

“It creates resilient communities through tourism with business, job growth, private investments and sustainability. It can be the driver for other trails to close their gaps,” Ziegler said. “It can provide recreation opportunities within 10 minutes of every Pennsylvanian.”

Ziegler said more than 500 applicants submitted proposals for the first phase of the Build Back Challenge, and only 60 were selected to move on to the second phase. Finalists have until March 15 to submit their full proposals.

A total of 20 to 30 of the regional coalition finalists will be selected for funding in September. Successful applicants will have five years to complete their projects.