Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Exploring the Ghost Town Rail Trail: Dilltown to Eliza Furnace

Last summer, we stayed the weekend in Pittsburgh, but on our way back home to Maryland, decided to stop for a couple of hours and start what I hope will be an ongoing exploration of a new (for us) rail trail: The Ghost Town Rail Trail. This rail trail stretches 36 miles between Black Lick (PA) to Ebensburg.

The sign at the Saylors Creek entry point to the trail. Photo courtesy of Indiana County (PA) Parks.


Yes, it was the name that first grabbed me, but then I saw some photos from other riders and promptly added it to my ever-growing list. The Ghost Town Rail Trail derives its name from numerous mining towns -- most of which are now abandoned -- that once existed along the railroad corridor.



Because of time constraints and the fact that it was predicted to be an unbearably hot day, combined with the prospect of a long car ride home in front of us, we decided to only ride a short-leg of the rail trail -- from Dilltown to Eliza Furnace and back, a comfortable 12 miles round trip, with Eliza Furnace as the destination.



We looked for signs of the former towns, but saw little, other than what looked as if it could be foundations of something, in Wehrum, and a few crumbling concrete walls along the trail. So note, there are few remnants of these former towns evident, and those that can still be seen are located on private property not open to the general public. But even as I was disappointed not to see ruins of towns or some empty, abandoned buildings, I realized that's not why bike riders should check out this trail.



It's a well groomed, fine packed gravel trail -- a pleasure to ride on, even with my smooth-tired hybrid. The section we rode was in heavy shade for all but a few short patches, with constant views of Backlick Creek, a wide, shallow lazy creek. Every once in a while I noticed a fish splash.



There were no ghosts, of course, but we noticed a couple of snakes on the trail. Deer tracks -- and deer themselves -- were also abundant. Two piles of bear scat, filled with remnants of the red berries (yes, I looked) from bushes along the side of the trail, marked the travels of a hungry bear or two -- I imagine they weren't far away when we rode by... We heard woodpeckers, and my husband is pretty sure he saw a bald eagle. There's quite a bit of wildlife along this trail.

It's also a comfortable trail. The ride is pleasant, the path is wide enough and not crowded, so riding side by side was easy. There are multiple benches and picnic tables along the way, and at Dilltown and Vintondale, there are bathrooms (as there are at other major access points).



Our destination and turn-around place was Eliza Furnace, built in 1846 and the first of three furnaces to be built in the creek valley. It is also one of Pennsylvania’s best preserved iron furnaces, although it operated just three years, until 1849. An interpretive exhibit is located at the site. Vintondale was established next to Eliza Furnace years later -- in 1892 -- as a company mine town.

After our ride, we crossed Rt 403 to the Dillweed Bed and Breakfast to purchase a sandwich and a cool drink to enjoy on the inn's front porch. This establishment frequently hosts folks specifically to ride the trail.



Getting there: We accessed the Ghost Town Trail in Dilltown, but there are access points in Saylor Park, Heshbon, Dilltown, Wehrum, Vintondale, Twin Rocks, Nanty Glo, and Ebensburg.
  • Saylor Park - 1284 Old Indiana Road, Blairsville, PA 15717 - Parking, restroom in season, picnic facilities, nearby walking path and ballfields, park is operated by Burrell Township.
  • Heshbon - 10485 Route 259, Blairsville, PA 15717 - Parking, portable restroom in season.
  • Dilltown - 7452 Route 403, Dilltown, PA 15929 (Could also be Homer City, PA 15748) - Parking, restrooms, picnic facilities, nearby trail shop and bed & breakfast, water.
  • Wehrum - 2415 Wehrum Road, Vintondale, PA 15961 - Parking
  • Vintondale, Rexis - 1069 Main Street, Vintondale, PA 15961 - Parking, restroom at Eliza Station, picnic area, water.
  • Twin Rocks - 1397 Plank Road, Nanty Glo, PA 15943 - Parking
  • Nanty Glo - 1097 1st Street, Nanty Glo, PA 15943 - Parking, restroom in season at football field, local restaurants.
  • Ebensburg - 424 Prave Street, Ebensburg, PA 15931 - Parking, local restaurants.

Hours: Daylight

Website: There are several websites that provide information about the Ghost Town Rail Trail, as well as my go-to guide book, developed by the Rail Trails Conservancy, Rail Trails Pennsylvania, Ne Jersey and New York (Wilderness Press, 2011). But I recommend checking out the Indiana County Parks' website, as it offers the best and most specific directions to the rail trail access points: http://www.indianacountyparks.org/trails/ghosttown_trail.aspx. The Ghost Town Rail Trail Wikipedia page provides a handy elevation chart, which is good for planning your ride.



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