Why not here?

The Covington News - - Opinion - MAU­RICE CARTER

As I write, it’s Thurs­day night in Han­cock, Md., and I’m at the end of day four of a six day jour­ney by bi­cy­cle from Pitts­burgh to Wash­ing­ton, D.C. With two friends, we biked Mon­day through Wed­nes­day on the Great Al­legheny Pas­sage Rail Trail from Pitts­burgh to Cum­ber­land, Md. To­day, our trav­els took us onto the his­toric Ch­e­sa­peake & Ohio Canal Tow­path, which will lead us to the D.C. sub­urb of Ge­orge­town by Satur­day.

The ad­ven­ture re­ally started on the evening of Fri­day, Sept. 14, when we boarded AM­TRAK in At­lanta bound for Pitts­burgh. And, it won’t end un­til the Mon­day af­ter this col­umn is pub­lished, when AM­TRAK brings us back to Brook­wood Sta­tion on Peachtree Street. In be­tween, we’ll rack up some 330 miles on the bike and cre­ate mem­o­ries to last a life­time.

Why ride all that way on these two trails? For one thing, be­cause it sounded like fun. And, it is. But, for an­other, be­cause I wanted to ex­pe­ri­ence first hand these two trails that I so of­ten tout as a per­fect ex­am­ple of the eco­nomic and community im­pact green­way trails can have in New­ton County.

This year, the Board of New­ton Trails de­vel­oped a new vi­sion state­ment. It says: “We en­vi­sion a healthy, vi­brant, pros­per­ous community con­nected to one an­other, to na­ture, to our his­tory and to daily life through a sys­tem of green­way trails.”

The GAP and C&O Canal trails are the liv­ing em­bod­i­ment of that vi­sion.

Healthy com­mu­ni­ties are found all along of these con­nect­ing trails. In the Penn­syl­va­nia towns of Con­nellsville, Ohiopyle, Con­flu­ence, Rock­wood and Mey­ers­dale, we’ve seen a steady mix this week of vis­i­tors and lo­cals out biking, jog­ging, and walk­ing their dogs. The same for Frost­berg, Cum­ber­land and Han­cock so far in Mary­land. We’ve met peo­ple in their 80s, fam­i­lies with small chil­dren, and nearly ev­ery­thing in be­tween. The vi­brancy comes from the en­ergy brought to town by overnight guests and the wel­com­ing at­mos­phere each community puts forth. The pros­per­ity builds from the money we leave be­hind for lodg­ing, food, and es­sen­tials. On a Mon­day night, our bed & break­fast in Con­nellsville is filled. Our inn keeper Lu­cille said 60 per­cent or more of her busi­ness comes from peo­ple biking or hik­ing the GAP trail. She talks about the hard times that have hit the town as the steel in­dus­try closed up shop in Penn­syl­va­nia. But, she cred­its the trail with help­ing to turn things around.

It’s been the same story in each of our overnight stops, where ho­tels, B&Bs, restau­rants and bike shops are still spring­ing up each sea­son. A 2008 eco­nomic im­pact study es­ti­mated trail-re­lated spend­ing of $41 mil­lion, lead­ing to $7.5 mil­lion in pages paid out in towns along the trail.

The trails con­nect peo­ple to one an­other. It’s like a rolling small town as you en­counter the same peo­ple each day on the trail and each night in town. And, the in­ter­ac­tions with the towns­peo­ple are most spe­cial. The wel­comes are gen­uine and the con­ver­sa­tion comes eas­ily.

The con­nec­tions with na­ture are nu­mer­ous and awe-in­spir­ing. In ad­di­tion to the nat­u­ral won­ders of the ever-present rivers and moun­tains, we’ve spied beavers, ot­ters, deer, hawks, ground­hogs, tur­tles, snakes and bird species too nu­mer­ous to count. We’ve trav­eled through dense forests, re­mote wilder­ness, state parks, and na­tional re­cre­ation ar­eas. Dairy farms, corn­fields and hay pas­tures paint a vivid por­trait of the re­gion’s farm­ing her­itage.

His­toric mark­ers, build­ings, and sites are ev­ery­where and run the gamut from the In­dus­trial Rev­o­lu­tion to the Amer­i­can Rev­o­lu­tion and the Civil War. Ge­orge Wash­ing­ton slept ev­ery­where in these parts. To­mor­row, we bike through An­ti­etam Na­tional Bat­tle­field and end up for the night in His­toric Harpers Ferry. Each day brings new in­sights into the birth of our na­tion and its strug­gles to reach to­day.

But, the con­nec­tions to daily life are ev­ery bit as pre­cious. Each new town along the way is a sliceof-life look at an­other small town way of life — in places very much like Cov­ing­ton, Por­terdale, Ox­ford, Mans­field and New­born. It’s so easy to imag­ine the health, pros­per­ity, and vi­brancy a rail trail would bring to our towns.

John F Kennedy pop­u­lar­ized the words of Ge­orge Bernard Shaw: “Some peo­ple see things as they are and say why? I dream things that never were and say, why not?”

Well, I see things that are proven suc­cess­ful else­where and ask why not here?

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