A Message from the Chief Executive Officer
Ohio River Trail History
French explorer Rene Robert Cavelier Sieur de La Salle was so taken with the Ohio River when he first laid eyes on it in 1669 that he christened it La Belle Riviere: The Beautiful River. Ohio is an Iroquois Indian name, Oheo, which traditionally is interpreted to mean "beautiful river", agreeing with the opinion of the French. The Ohio flows 981 miles from Pittsburgh, Pa to the Mississippi at Cairo, Illinois and winds some twenty-four miles through Beaver County, Pa reaching its northernmost point at Rochester, Pa. The Ohio River forms the boundaries of twenty-five different communities just in Beaver County. In the early days, the Ohio River was the primary way west for early settlers of the frontier. Later, with the coming of the steamboat, the Ohio River became the center of transportation and the Industrial Revolution.
During the Industrial Revolution, coal, transported via the Ohio River from West Virginia mines, powered the transformation of the United States from an agrarian society into one of largest industrial powers in the world. Beaver County grew rapidly after 1900 with the establishment of steel mills along the Ohio River, and much of the working force was engaged in steel production until the contraction of the steel industry in the late 1970s and early 1980’s. Although some structural steel is still produced, most of the steel making operations have been dismantled. Today, the Ohio River continues to transport the region's coal to a series of coal-fired generating plants located throughout the Ohio Valley. In addition, the Ohio is fortunately widely used for outdoor recreational activities. The Ohio is one of the most economically significant rivers in the world, and probably is why most of us live in Allegheny and Beaver County today.
Over the past 150 years, however, the Ohio River could have been more aptly defined as La Belle Couseuse: The Beautiful Sewer. However, clean stream laws over the past 50 years have helped the river make a comeback with reduced water pollution. Since the quality the water has improved in recent years, aquatic life such as Smallmouth Bass, Largemouth Bass, Walleye, Shad, Channel Catfish, Bullheads, Carp, Stripers, and Trout have returned to the Ohio River with anglers crowding the banks.
The railroads played an important role in the development of our young nation. They crossed rivers, like the Ohio, and penetrated mountain ranges, facilitating increased trade and westward expansion. Beaver County was home to the Pennsylvania Railroad, the "Standard Railroad of the World". Conway Yard that stretched almost four miles along the Ohio River was completed in 1957. This was the world’s largest and most up to date automatic freight classification yard.
Nevertheless, the railroad economy declined in 1960’s forcing the consolidation of the rail industry. The economic decline led to the closure of a number of uneconomical branch lines and many of these were simply abandoned. Beginning with a few lines in the Midwestern United States, the unused industrial relics were turned into ecological areas functioning as linear parks or community space, but mainly as recreation corridors. This was the birth of the Rail Trails.
By the 1970s, even some main lines were being sold or abandoned. This was especially true when regional rail lines merged and streamlined their operations. As both the supply of potential trails increased and awareness of the possibilities rose, state governments, municipalities, conservation authorities and private organizations bought the rail corridors to create, expand or link greenspaces. The first abandoned rail corridor in the United States converted into a recreational trail was the Elroy-Sparta State Trail in Wisconsin, which opened in 1965.
The invention of the bicycle had a revolutionary impact around the world. Considered the first democratic means of transportation, the bicycle eliminated dependence on the horse and carriage and allowed people to transport themselves faster and more efficiently. Today, the bicycle has regained its popularity as a transportation tool. Research and Innovative Technology Administration (RITA) and Bureau of Transportation Statistics indicate that nearly half (46%) of the driving-age adults (16 years or older) have access to a bicycle, and 54% with access used it the month immediately preceding the survey.
The Ohio River Trail Council was formed to build on this history and continue the important work of protecting our most important natural resource, the Ohio River. The Ohio River Trail (ORT) when completed will enhance and further develop recreational opportunities for the communities along the ORT corridors as well as the region, by linking existing and proposed pedestrian, bicycle, recreation, open space, and transportation facilities. The ORT will serve as an important alternative transportation corridor between communities as well as reducing congestion and pollution.
The ORTC through the development of the ORT will also protect environmental and cultural resources and improve public access to the river’s edge. One of the major outcomes of the project will be to foster further recreation and cultural-based economic development within the local communities and the region, capitalizing on the synergy of ecotourism and the potential development of a larger recreation and parks system as a way to reposition all the evolved communities for the 21st century business and lifestyle needs. The ORT can become the new “town commons” where neighbors greet neighbors and new friendships can be forged along the scenic banks of the Ohio River. To say the proposed ORT would be significant resource in the region would be an understatement. The ORT would be a tremendous boost to the quality of life in Beaver and Allegheny Counties and the communities it would pass through.
Dr. Vincent Troia
Chief Executive Chairmen & CEO
Copyright © 2009 Ohio River Trail Council