2013 Trail Town Outreach Corps Moving Right Along

As programs and projects continue to evolve and grow, staff and members come and go, and as we all know, sometimes small details slip through the cracks.  Such is the case with these corps blog pages.  We’ve made big structural changes to both of our rural Pennsylvania sustainability corps programs, the Trail Town Outreach Corps (TTOC) and River Town Outreach Corps (RTOC), and those corps have been successfully serving since February of this year.  I’ll offer this post as an update of the work done so far this year, and then we’ll get back on schedule with monthly updates!                

One of the biggest changes in the Trail Town Outreach Corps was moving our headquarters from Connellsville to Greensburg.  While it was sad to leave the community that we had lived and worked in for four years, the move to Greensburg brought many advantages.  Our corps is now based in the same office as the Progress Fund, the non-profit agency that created the Trail Town Program and is our biggest partner in the project.  Our corps members have benefitted greatly from working in the same office as Trail Town Program staff.  It has added a new level of professionalism to our program and is truly helping our members prepare for careers in conservation after their time with the SCA.               

TTOC has continued to focus on its core mission of helping the communities along the Great Allegheny Passage (GAP) bicycle trail connect to the trail as an asset to their town.  Our members regularly attend meetings of local governments and regional trail organizations to engage them as partners.  This year, however, many of our projects have been more regional in scope.  In 2013 we currently only have two corps members, but they are still completing a lot of work!               

One highlight of the year so far has been the official GAP completion ceremony.  The trail was stitched together by connecting smaller regional trails into the internationally famous trail that we have today.  The final mile of trail, which connected downtown Pittsburgh to the rest of the trail, was completed in early 2013, and an official ribbon cutting was held in June.  The day was a grand celebration of all of the work that had gone into making the trail, and ended with an organized group ride along the newest section of trail and into downtown Pittsburgh.  Several alumni from previous years of TTOC came back to Pittsburgh for the event.  Thanks to their work, and the work of countless other organizations that built the trail, it is now possible to bike or hike from Pittsburgh to Washington D.C. on a continuous trail!               

A major project that has taken much of 2013, but has been quite important, was our efforts to finish a trail-wide inventory of all signage.  Corps member Peter Grella took the lead and documented every sign along the GAP trail, and in the towns along it.  He will use that data to make recommendations of which areas need more directional signs, where broken or obsolete signs are, and how to generally improve the trail.  Stay tuned for more information on that program!               

Another major project, that we have also worked on in past years, is collecting trail count data.  There are a series of electronic trail counters that record the numbers of cyclists that pass by each point.  The numbers of trail users are helpful for local businesses and trail groups to determine the benefit that the trail has for each community.  An important component of that project that TTOC has worked on in 2013 has been to recruit volunteers from local areas and to train them to manage the trail counters.  This will help the long-term sustainability of the project, as we hope to eventually transition it to local volunteers within a year or two.               

Finally, this wouldn’t be a true SCA experience without spending our time outside working in parks and along trails!  TTOC corps members work at trailhead areas in each community, in city parks, and along the GAP trail itself.  Projects in 2013 included an Earth Day event in Connellsville, PA, litter clean-ups along the trail, rehabbing and repainting a visitor’s center, and planting native species to help stabilize an eroding hillside.  These projects are some of the most visible that TTOC works on, and arguably some of the most fun for our corps members!               

Stay tuned for more information about the projects of the Trail Town Outreach Corps in 2013…