PUNXSUTAWNEY — During the warmer months, many residents of Punxsy enjoy a tranquil evening walking on the Mahoning Shadow Trail. But many do not know that maintenance for the trail is a year-long, ongoing project.
The Mahoning Shadow Trail is the Punxsy chapter of the Rails-to-Trails Association, which runs along Mahoning Creek for most of the trail, and passing many scenic sites along the way, such as the coke ovens.
As many know, Rails-to-Trails is a nationwide project that turns old railroads into trails for users to walk, run, bike or cross-country ski.
Sadly, many trails across the country have had trouble funding the
maintenance costs, and the Mahoning Shadow Trail is no exception.
“Most of the trails are funded out of enhancement dollars from the federal highway trust, and that’s how these trails get built, but there’s no money to maintain them once they’re built; that’s the problem,” said Howard Glessner, the trail’s maintenance supervisor.
Ever since the idea for a trail in began in 1994, the local group has held fund-raisers, accepted donations and applied for state and federal grants to fund the trail that was not created until almost a decade later.
Physically and financially maintaining a 15.5-mile trail that runs through the woods is no easy task. However, many of the trail’s issues could be prevented, since they come from people using it in unintended ways.
One of the biggest issues over the years has been ATV use on the trail.
“No. 1, it’s against the regulations, and No. 2, it’s dangerous. It’s just that the ATVs and the horses are inconsistent, and No. 3, it really messes up the trail surface,” said Matt Taladay, president of the local Rails-to-Trails Association.
Another problem has been that people ride horses on the trail, which creates a lot of maintenance work.
“One horse can cause them (crews) days of work,” said Taladay, who encourages anyone who sees someone using the trail improperly to report it.
“If you see something, say something,” he said.
The board members commend the trail users who take initiative and clean up a section of the trail on their own.
“Most of the people who use it are very good; it’s not the people who use it who are the problem, people dumping things, like off Margiotti bridge,” said Susan Wolfe, the local group’s secretary.
Nature itself has also been a major issue for trail maintenance. Fallen trees, tree branches, weeds and vegetation surrounding the trail requires a great deal of maintenance. In the fall, leaves become an issue, so a leaf vacuum and blowers are used.
When the weather becomes warm, grass and weeds become an issue, so the trail gets sprayed with Round-Up, and certain spots are mowed.
“Mother Nature is taking it back, and we’re fighting against it,” board member Bob Anibaldi said.
Another problem is also vandalism, as two gates were destroyed last year, totaling about $1,600 in damages. The trail is located near a few dump sites as well. There will sometimes be couches, tires, and deer carcasses on or near the trail that need cleaned up.
In addition, there is still more clean-up needed following a spill from a truck Oct. 31, 2011, in the area from Mahoning Valley Milling to Fordam.
Large quantities of motor oil and anti-freeze were spilled on the trail, and it has not been totally cleaned.
From time to time, different community or church groups help with trail clean-up. There is also a volunteer clean up day held each year, and this year’s clean up day will be Saturday, April 28. Anyone is welcome to help.
Also, the Orange Patrol has helped maintain the trail during the winter, cutting down dead trees and clearing branches that block the trail.
The Orange Patrol is a work release program for inmates of the Jefferson County jail, who perform various maintenance and clean-up tasks throughout the county.
“The Orange Patrol has been wonderful this year,” Glessner said.
The board of the Mahoning Shadow Trail wants to return the trail back to its level when it was first established. The entire trail — as opposed to only certain sections — will be treated with weed killer this year.
Whenever the trail is being sprayed, it may be closed in a few sections for between four to six hours. The spray dates have not been established, since they’re weather dependent.
Certain spots on the trail have become muddy and run-down. To compensate for the eroding trail, the board wants to lay down crushed limestone.
The board has someone to donate the limestone, but needs to raise about $100,000 to cover the cost of installation.
Ideally, the board also seeks to install a new, two-inch overlay of limestone so the trail can look as it did when it was first constructed.