I typically spend a great deal of my summer leisure time outside, and more specifically, in the woods. I’ve been working through some soft-tissue injuries that prevent me from doing back-country canoeing on the Canadian Shield, so this summer I’ve been taking a more gentle approach.
Last week, I loaded the bikes and car-camping gear into the truck and drove down to Ohiopyle PA where the Great Allegheny Passage (GAP trail) climbs through the mountains from Pittsburgh to Cumberland MD. Ohiopyle has been a whitewater paddling destination for as long as the sport has been popular. Since the completion of the GAP trail and the Laurel Highlands Hiking Trail, Ohiopyle has become a multi-use outdoor recreation area. The fact that the entire GAP trail is the former Western Maryland right of way makes the area even more interesting to me.
Many people ride the entire 150 miles of the GAP trail over a number of days. Some are supported by outfitters, and some are self-supported, and carry all or most of their needs on the bikes. The trail passes through enough towns that one could carry very little food, and I suppose it’s possible to stay in roofed accommodations for the whole trip. The GAP trail connects to the C&O Canal trail, a national park trail built on the tow-path of the historic C&O Canal which paralleled the B&O Railroad from Cumberland to Washington DC. I rode the 184.5 C&O canal trail in four days some ten years ago, before the GAP trail was finished.
During our “soft” outdoors vacation to Ohiopyle PA, we rode day trips from the towns of Connellsville, Meyersdale, and Ohiopyle. We were even photographed and featured in a small article in the local newspaper during a side-trip on the Sheepskin Trail, an old mining branch from the WM mainline just south of Connellsville and ending at Dunbar PA.
The big attractions in the Meyersdale area (for me, at least) are the B&O’s Sandpatch Tunnels, and the Keystone and Salisbury Viaducts which carried the Western Maryland over the B&O. The WM was the second railway into the Youghiogheny River valley, and it was a better engineered route, keeping the railway high and dry, and at a consistent 1.75% grade. Both factors demanded that the railway cross the river and the B&O a few times along the way.
Railfanning the CSX along the Youghiogheny River is not easy, though I found some stellar locations during my hiking and biking. Some of the best shots would require a kayak, and I just might have to do that on a future trip. I wasn’t planning to spend time chasing and shooting trains, but they were always within earshot, and usually on the other side of the river.
The area is replete with other notable historical sites, like Civil War battlefields and colonial outposts. Frank Lloyd Wright designed and built the Falling Water residence, which we visited as well.
The best part of the trip was riding behind a DM&IR consolidation steam engine on the Western Maryland Scenic Railway. The WM Scenic uses the former WM from Cumberland MD to Frostburg, where they turn the engine and head back. It makes for a nice afternoon.
The weather cooperated for the entire week, and we cycled between 15 and 25 miles on the three days that had the bikes out. The rest of the time was occupied with hiking, snooping around at historical sites, and sampling the local smoker-cooked ribs and ice-cream. All-in-all, it was great mix of trains, camping, cycling, hiking, and history. Just how I like it.