Written by Aly Delp and Danielle Taylor

Members of the Piney Rail Riders, a nonprofit organization supporting legal trails for off-road vehicles in Clarion and Jefferson Counties, are one step closer to their goal of developing a new trail open to ATV traffic in the Pennsylvania Great Outdoors region. In December, Governor Wolf’s administration announced their approval of a $64,000 grant for the Piney Rail Riders to prepare a feasibility study for the Piney Branch ATV Rail Corridor, which runs for approximately 24 miles from Piney Township southwest of the town of Clarion to Brookville.

“We are thrilled DCNR was in support of our organization and our goal to preserve and eventually purchase one of the few remaining rail beds in western Pennsylvania,” said Terry Chapla, a representative of the Piney Rail Riders.

Funding for the grants comes from registrations for roughly 285,000 ATVs across Pennsylvania. DCNR’s ATV and snowmobile grant program can help to buy land, develop plans and surveys, construct and maintain ATV trails, buy equipment, and conduct educational programs relating to ATV use.

The Piney Rail Riders have been attempting to purchase the rights to the rail corridor to create a mixed-use trail open to motorized off-road vehicles as well as hikers, walkers, bicyclists, and horseback riders. Other rail lines in the counties have already been developed as trails, but they are closed to motorized forms of transportation. The Piney Branch trail offers a public recreation opportunity for ATV riders, equestrians, and other trail users in these two counties.

Piney Rail Riders was formed from a handful of avid outdoorsmen and women who have used the trail for years to ride ATVs, side-by-sides, dirt bikes, and snowmobiles. The organization has been working closely with various other organizations doing similar work in other areas of the state as well as state and federal agencies that have been guiding and helping them navigate the tedious, costly process of obtaining rights to the rail bed. The landowner of the railbed is working alongside Piney Rail Riders to develop the trail for a broad range of users.

“Fortunately the landowner is also an avid ATV rider and was not initially interested in seeing the rail line become a non-motorized trail, mostly because he also enjoys riding it as well,” Chapla said.

The grant will be used to hire an engineering firm to do a feasibility study of the rail line, which will look at property lines, road crossings, stream crossings, and bridges. The firm will generate a report showing all of the issues, estimated costs of trail development, and a determination of the viability of the trail, as well as possible economic benefits of the trail to the local area. According to Ken Shaffer, president of the Piney Rail Riders, the organization has narrowed down their search to a Clarion-area engineering firm and will complete the hire as soon as the final signatures come through on the grant, which is expected to happen by late March.

In the meantime, the trail is open for public use. The Piney Rail Riders will hold a public cleanup of the trail on April 13, and interested volunteers can find out more information on their Facebook page.

“I think it’s fantastic because ATVs do bring a lot of people into the area to stay at motels and ride all weekend, and we have lots of hiking and biking trail but few ATV trails,” Clarion County Commissioner Ted Tharan said. “Anything we can do to promote our area is a good idea. It’s good that we have people that are stepping up and volunteering and helping out with this.”

Learn more and find other interesting places to visit in the Pennsylvania Great Outdoors region by going to VisitPAGO.com or calling (814) 849-5197.

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