More Than A Rail Trail

The mossy pile of cut-stones that once formed Rock Furnace wasn’t very impressive. There are more-intact remnants of iron furnaces within our region.


But the setting was something else! Perched adjacent to a large, jutting, tri-axle-sized rock from which the furnace got its name, the remains sit on a terrace in a steep, wooded vale, overlooking a beautiful and bustling little stream.


Roaring Run rushes down a steady slope in a series of cascades and falls to its meeting with the Kiskiminetas River a half-mile below. The watercourse shimmies under hardwoods and shrubs, sliding across rock-shelves worn smooth with time and splashing over drops, as it tumbles downhill.


Its continual cascades fill the vale with the sound of surging water even when the stream’s water level is relatively low. My companions tell me that after a heavy rainfall there’s no question of how Roaring Run got its name. 


Rich Dixon, Laura Hawkins, and I had just ridden our bicycles upstream within this picturesque, wooded little valley along a groomed surface probably just a bit too steep to be called a “rail-trail.” But the pretty scene was well-worth the perspiration.


We were in the heart of the 652-acre Roaring Run Recreation Area, experiencing the Rock Furnace Trail. “It’s hard to believe we have a place like this so close to Apollo,” a trail-user had just said to me a few minutes earlier.


It’s exciting to me that we have a place like this within our region.


Apollo is typical of so many of our towns: Given birth by river commerce and the Pennsylvania Main Line Canal, nurtured by coal and steel, this Kiski valley community is still finding its way in the service economy.


For the past 25 years, the Roaring Run Watershed Association has been among Apollo’s trail-blazers. Since 1982 when it was formed to restore industrially degraded land and preserve unspoiled tracts, the association has assembled a recreation area that includes a community park, two natural areas, the four-mile Roaring Run Trail, the one-and-a-half mile Rock Furnace Trail and a 13-mile trail network for hikers and mountain bikers.


Such results are impressive when we consider that this has been accomplished by an all-volunteer organization with an annual budget totaling only $9,000. Experience these results, though, and impressiveness becomes exhilaration.


“What I like about this trail is that you can always hear water,” observed Rich Dixon, an Apollo Borough councilman and association vice-president, as we rode along the four-mile Roaring Run Trail that parallels the Kiski.


Main Line Canal traces abound: Small, square Canal survey stones jut up here and there; depressions evident of the old canal prism run along the trail; cut-rock remnants of a lock chamber sit near the mouth of Roaring Run; and amazingly intact, dry-laid rock abutments for a towpath bridge still flank Flat Run.


As we rode this trail in late-April, woodland banks were covered with white-blossomed trillium. And interpretive markers told the story of how an abandoned-mine runoff site, known as the Trux Discharge, was reclaimed.


While Rich described plans to extend the main trail another mile into Edmon, our other riding companion, Laura Hawkins, Kiski-Conemaugh Project Coordinator for the Allegheny Ridge Corporation, referred to efforts to connect the trail from Edmon to the West Penn Trail, which currently ends four miles away on the other side of Avonmore.


Eventually, the Roaring Run Trail could become a section in a continuous trail, running from Apollo through Saltsburg and Blairsville to Ebensburg – a distance of more than 50 miles.


What this little, 6.5-mile rail-trail system currently lacks in length, however, it makes up for with natural beauty and historical features. They don’t just speak for themselves, they roar.


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Reprinted with permission from Hurst Media Works