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Rail 66 Country Trail to Join Corridor to Kinzua State Park

Tuesday, September 27, 2016 @ 12:09 AM

Posted by Ron Wilshire

IMG_1090LUCINDA, Pa. (EYT) – The 4.3 mile Rail 66 Country Trail walking and biking trail that starts near the countryside of northern Clarion County near Lucinda and Knox Township will join a 73.8 mile long corridor recently purchased by the Headwater Charitable Trust on behalf of Clarion, Forest, Elk, and McKean counties and ends at Kinzua State Park (Photo above).

Although Headwaters did not release any cost information for the purchase of the former Knox and Kane Railroad from the Kovalchick Corporation, of Indiana, earlier reports stated Headwaters was expecting to spend $1.95 million, including $250,000.00 from the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and National Resources.

The completed, non-motorized trail will start with the former Rail 66 Country Trail and finish at the Kinzua Bridge State Park in McKean County.

The local Rail 66 Country Trail organization will take over responsibility for the 24 miles in Clarion County just as other local organizations will do so along other parts of the Headwater Trail.

“By breaking it up that way, you have people to maintain it, look after it, police it, and that’s how they want to do it,” said Vince DiStefano, president of the Rail 66 Country Trail.

Jane French, executive director of Headwaters, said negotiations for the entire corridor began in 2013 when the Allegheny National Forest Visitors Bureau asked Headwaters Trust to do the groundwork — appraisals, surveys, and legal support to draft agreements — for a complete trail corridor. Headwaters plans to begin trail development in 2017.

The Knox and Kane Railroad ceased operating in 2006. It used to run trains across the Kinzua Bridge, which was 2,053 feet long and 301 feet high — once the highest, longest bridge in the world. In 2003, tornado damage forced its closure. In 2011, a platform, known as the Kinzua Sky Walk with a view of the Kinzua Gorge, was completed, along with other buildings and attractions at Kinzua State Park.

The new trail is a tremendous opportunity for trail and economic development, and based on estimates from the Knox and Kane Rail Trail Feasibility Study completed in 2011, the trail has the potential to generate 100,000 to 160,000 visitors annually to the region with an estimated economic impact of $4.3M to $7 million annually.

History

A group of local residents first formed the Rail 66 County Trail Organization and leased the 4.3 miles from the Kovalchick Corporation and made improvements to the tract of land, including a paved surface.

The Knox-Kane Railroad began operations after it acquired the right-of-way from the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad in 1982. The primary function of the railroad was to provide service between Knox in Clarion County and Kane and Mt. Jewett in McKean County. In addition to transporting freight such as coal, the Knox-Kane Railroad ran a tourist operation from Marienville through Kane across the Viaduct at Kinzua Bridge State Park.

Although the tourism market became more important to the Knox Kane Railroad as freight deliveries in the region decreased, the tourism operation suffered a fatal blow when a section of the Kinzua Viaduct was toppled by a tornado in 2003. The tourist train limped on into 2006, when it ceased operations due to lack of ridership. The trail corridor has since been rail-banked for interim trail use.

The Knox Kane project was actually launched in 2010 with the development of a Feasibility Study funded by the PA Department of Conservation and Natural Resources. The purpose of the study was to determine a road map for developing the Knox Kane corridor based on extensive public input.

An additional benefit is the Knox and Kane Railroad corridor will be preserved. The full 73.8-mile section is approved for rail banking by the Surface Transportation Board. Railbanking is a voluntary agreement between a railroad company and an organization to use an out-of-service rail corridor as a trail until a railroad might need the corridor again for rail service. In 1983, concerned by the rapid loss of America’s rail network, the U.S. Congress amended the National Trails System Act to create the railbanking program.

Railbanking is a method by which lines proposed for abandonment can be preserved through interim conversion to trail use. Some railroad rights-of-way contain easements that revert back to adjacent landowners when abandonment is consummated. However, if a line is railbanked, the corridor is treated as if it had not been abandoned. As a result, the integrity of the corridor is maintained, and any reversions that could break it up into small pieces are prevented.

Headwaters Charitable Trust is a 501c 3 nonprofit based in Curwensville, Pa. The Trust has worked with many communities in the PA Wilds of north central Pennsylvania over the last 26 years on projects that promote economic development through partnerships and jobs leading to a green economy.


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