The Newtown Pentacle

Altissima quaeque flumina minimo sono labi

Montour Trail, part 1

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– photo by Mitch Waxman

There’s a huge network of rail trails in the Pittsburgh area, something which has caught my attentions a few times. Rail Trails follow the “right of way” of some bankrupt railroad which is long gone, whereupon some combination of Governmental and community organizations converted the former trackways into public spaces and parkland. A few weeks ago, I visited a section of the Great Allegheny Passage or “GAP,” which was described here, here, and here. Additionally, visits to the Three Rivers Heritage and Hot Metal trails, as well as the Eliza Furnace Trail, are described. One is slowly becoming aware of the fairly vast network of these rail trails which snake around Pittsburgh.

Last week, I paid a visit to a suburb of Pittsburgh called Coraopolis where the Montour Trail, which follows the path of the defunct Montour Railroad, begins.

I’d visited a couple of sections of the Montour very briefly back in January, in a place called McDonald, where it intersects with another rail trail called the Panhandle. There’s also a Montour trailhead in Clairton, nearby one of the Steel Mills. Wow.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

I parked the Mobile Oppression Platform (the Toyota) at the head of the trail at a lot maintained for visitors nearby the Montour Trail’s zero mile marker. There was a Porta Potty there. One gathered the camera gear off of the back seat of the MOP and set off for a medium sized scuttle. This time around, I had two zoom lenses and a tripod with me. One lens on the camera, the other (a 70-300) in the bag. I’d say that about 75-80% were shot with my 24-105 mm lens.

Speaking of shooting, the first mile or so of the Montour Trail allows you egress between the property of two shooting ranges. For the entire first mile and a half, you’ll hear non stop rifle fire. This was excellent. There was so much gunfire going on that it sounded like a rock beat was playing. USA!

– photo by Mitch Waxman

These trails are very easy walking, and a lot of people were biking through, and most of them were sort of pleasant. The custom here is to say hello to strangers, or at least nod at them, while passing by. It’s somewhat ritualized, this friendly thing. As a lifelong New Yorker, this acknowledgment of other’s existence is weird, but when in Rome…

The surface of the trail is mostly crushed limestone but there’s patches of pavement here and there. The grading of the thing is in accordance with the railroad standard of gaining no more than one foot of elevation for every hundred feet that’s crossed horizontally, which is where that “easy walking” observation comes in. A small waterbody was running alongside the trail berm that once carried rails, called Montour Run. In places, the water looked fairly deep. Signage indicated that the run was stocked with trout. There were a bunch of informal trails leading off the Montour which people had graded with their feet. In urban design circles, these sort of corridors are called “desire paths.”

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Roughly two miles from where I started, the Montour Trail intersects with a natural conservation area and a set of side trails maintained by the Hollow Oak Land Trust. One wandered into the Hollow Oak zone for about a half hour, and enjoyed the landscape. I’m definitely coming back to this one in the spring when all of those sticks have leaves on them.

A lot of shallow water was cascading about, running down out of the woods and eventually joining the Montour Run.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

A crew of volunteers was at work when I was there, maintaining the trail and clearing brush. This was my turnaround point for the walk, as I ultimately had to back track to the zero mile point to get back to the car. The Montour Trail ultimately goes to Maryland, so it’s clearly not something I’m going to walk all in one go.

The other side trails which branch off of the Montour are going to also get some attention in the fullness of time, but as mentioned many times – one is still scouting.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

After hitting the turnaround point, roughly two and a half miles from the start, one began heading to the MOP. I had noted a few spots which were visually promising on my way to the turnaround point, and since it was now a good time of day – late afternoon – for light…

More tomorrow at this – your Newtown Pentacle.

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Written by Mitch Waxman

February 23, 2023 at 11:00 am

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  1. […] of a 62 degree sunny February day – in Pittsburgh – and head over to a section of the Montour Trail which was next on my ‘go see it’ list. This part of the trail straddles the border of […]

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