Preserving and Promoting Community Trails
in Western Pennsylvania

Pine Lacrosse members laying new gravel by the trailhead sign

Pine Lacrosse members work on the trail

The Harmony Trail is Growing Again

By Bob Mulshine

On the north side of Route 910 (Wexford-Bayne Road) fresh trail is being laid on the edge of the new Harmony Station neighborhood along Brennan Road. Like the Harmony Trolley line, it runs along the utility poles following Wexford Run. The six-foot wide, crushed limestone surfaced trail ends on Brennan Road a short distance from where Manor Road meets Brennan Road. Bradford Woods is a short walk to the north.

Crossing busy Route 910 from the existing Harmony Trail to the new segment will be a challenge. Pine Township has done engineering studies. They are working to determine the safest method of crossing and have included the RCTC and the Wexford Station HOA in their planning. They hope to have planning completed this fall and the construction done next spring.

The Harmony Trail south of Route 910 hosted two volunteer days this year. The spring event was boosted by volunteers from the Pine-Richland Football Association and the fall event was supported by the Pine-Richland Lacrosse Association. Having a couple dozen healthy young people working on trail issues ensured that a lot of work got done. The work involved patching potholes in the parking lot and fixing washed out areas on the trail. Pine Township has generously donated gravel for this work. There are a number of pipes that move water under the trail from the high side to the low side. Volunteers cleared the area around the pipe openings to remove anything that might impede the free flow of the water and anything that might have settled inside the pipes.

We also count on volunteers to remove invasives such as barberry, garlic mustard, and privet as well as planting donated wildflower seeds and seedlings. Some of our more intrepid volunteers get right into the stream to remove debris and remove some of the old pipes that are exposed in the stream bank. With all of the extra help the trail is looking very good.

In addition to the regular volunteer events our stewards put in a lot of hours controlling invasive knotweed and poison hemlock. They keep the dog waste station emptied and stocked with bags. We also have a volunteer who puts in a lot of hours managing deer hunting on the property

Next year’s trail maintenance activities will probably be very similar. There is a possibility that we will paint the Marian Crossman Bridge which is 5 years old now. We experienced some spray paint vandalism which we addressed with sanding. Fresh paint will improve the look of the bridge and protect the materials long term.

There is a committee of volunteers that focuses on promoting, preserving and improving the trail. They usually meet in the parking lot on Route 910 at 6:15 PM on the first Wednesday of the month from mid-spring to mid-fall. If you're interested in helping, contact Bob Mulshine at 412-741-0862.

Finally, a parting gift for you history and/or nostalgia buffs. A committee member attended a presentation on local trolley lines by the Pennsylvania Trolley Museum which shared this brief movie of the Harmony Line.

Challenge Participant Fights Cancer

By Kathleen Ganster

Rachel Carson Trail Challenge participants take on the challenge for a variety of reasons – as a motivator to keep in shape, to log another event in their books, as a way to connect with friends and family and as a personal goal.

For Kyle Giest, it was cancer that sparked his Challenge. "I had been wanting to get outside and hike more, but found it hard staying motivated during the ups and downs of treatment. I thought having the goal to complete (the Challenge) would help me stay motivated," he said, "And it did!"

Kyle, now 31, was diagnosed with Ewing's sarcoma, a rare pediatric cancer, when he was 25. "At the time it was localized to my foot. I went through a pretty aggressive chemotherapy - 14 rounds - and radiation regimen for the better part of a year. I always found movement and sports really helpful and got into pickleball during that time. I was in remission for 3.5 years when a scan revealed the sarcoma had recurred, metastasizing to my right lung," he said of his most recent diagnosis. Although Kyle lived in Florida, he moved to Pittsburgh to be closer to his mom and underwent another eight rounds of chemo over six months before surgery in mid-March.

Despite treatment and surgery, Kyle maintained a fitness routine and learned about the Challenge last fall, a few months into his chemotherapy treatments. To prepare, Kyle trained with trainer and owner of Union Fitness, Todd Hamer, who has done the Challenge himself several times. "When he heard my story, he graciously offered consultation free of charge and the training plans he came up with really helped keep me on track. I would take a break from training during treatment weeks but jumped right back the following week," Kyle explained, " After surgery in March, it took about a month before I could walk even a mile again. I really didn't think the Challenge would be possible at this point but I was committed to showing up."

Kyle took advantage of the training hikes which not only helped his physical strength, but his confidence. "I just kept walking, and thankfully my body bounced back really fast after that and each week leading up to the Challenge was better and better. The Sunday morning training hikes felt good and after doing a 20 mile hike a couple weeks before the challenge, I felt confident I'd be able to get through the full thing!" he said.

To add to the fun, Kyle’s family and friends turned the Challenge into a three-day affair. "We invited friends and family from all over to come celebrate life with us," he said. Kyle’s sister, Alison, did the full Challenge with him and there were three teams in the Friends & Family component to support and cheer Kyle on. "We had people flying in from Florida, Tennessee, Massachusetts, New York, and even Austria. College friends, family friends from the neighborhood I grew up in, a few new Pittsburgh friends, and family came. We had a big dinner on the Friday night before the Challenge, had post-Challenge ice cream and waffles, and an all-day party with friends, family, neighbors on Sunday at our house," Kyle said.

Kyle also received training and support from family friend and neighbor and longtime Challenge veteran, Tom Armstrong. "He gave me a lot of good advice in the months leading up to the Challenge, including convincing me to use hiking poles. Thanks Tom," he said.

Since the Challenge in June, Kyle is once again facing cancer. In late summer, a scan showed a recurrence and Kyle is now in a clinical trial study through the Cleveland Clinic.

Undeterred, Kyle is still hiking, and in fact, has started a hiking/running group, Frickin’ Friday Trail Dayz held weekly at Frick Park. "I want to keep making friendships and connections and getting people together," he said. Kyle also hopes to inspire others on their own cancer journeys, helping them to train and prepare for the Challenge – whatever length. Kyle is also kicking off a podcast "Cancer Café" to share experiences and interview people in various aspects of cancer organizations and their journeys.

Like many Challengers, Kyle doesn’t think this one will be his last. "If my health allows it, I will definitely be back year after year! There is an open invitation now to my friends and family to do the Challenge with me," he said. Contact Kyle to join him on hikes, etc. at kylegiest@gmail.com.

Kyle and sister Alison at Log Cabin checkpoint

Kyle and friends the following day

Rich Hill hikers

I'm a Trail Landowner

By Elizabeth Henry

My husband and I are proud owners of the section of the Rachel Carson Trail that has the very challenging Rich Hill. I grew up on this land; hiking the woods and yes, climbing the hill on a regular basis. When I was given the land by my father, I did not realize we also inherited a portion of the Rachel Carson Trail. When we returned from Colorado to build our retirement home, we were surprised one June afternoon to hear numerous voices on the pipeline, and investigating found that it was the day of the Challenge. It was a cold and rainy day, yet despite the conditions, the hikers were intent on conquering all the hills on their way to Harrison Hills Park. They deserved some encouragement – if not that year, then we could at least do something the next year.

We looked to the residents of Boulder, Colorado for inspiration. When we lived near Denver, we had a great time running the Bolder Boulder 10K. The town of Boulder seems to be one big block party as the race route goes through the residential streets. The residents come out to cheer on the 50,000 participants and offer the runners an array of items for encouragement: cow bells, cotton candy, beer, belly dancers, garage bands, being sprayed with water, and numerous other fun options. Considering the neighbors here are very few, there is no nearby electricity for a band or cotton candy machine, and we know no belly-dancers, we were left with just handing out ice pops to the hikers. Which, to our amazement, were welcomed with delight. Since we’ve done this a few years, some of the hikers remember where we are and look forward to a bit of icy sugar water. Last Challenge, we doubled the size of our volunteer staff – my brother-in-law and his wife joined us, and they had a wonderful afternoon. Many thanks to the hikers who unknowingly lifted my brother-in-law’s spirits that day – he said he hadn’t had that much fun in a long, long time.

The many people who hike the Rachel Carson trail are lovely people. Occasionally, I get to meet a few on non-Challenge days when I’m fixing the fence or just out enjoying the scenery. This mutual affection for nature is the main reason why we allow hiking through our property. The hikers respect the land (we have never, ever found trash left behind by a hiker) and enjoy the challenge of hiking a rugged landscape. I was, and still am, so blessed to be able to hike these woods and hills and to enjoy the views and the quiet forests. To share it only seems right.

Baker Ultra: Making Room for the Women

By Amy Nelson

Originally published 11/1/2023 in UltraRunning magazine

The 2023 Baker Trail UltraChallenge accomplished a milestone rare for any 50-mile race: the number of female participants exceeded the number of registered male runners. Just two years ago, the race organizers launched an initiative to expand female participation with the objective of reaching gender parity, and a significant "Did Not Start" rate on the morning of the race this year tipped the scales. The final percentage of participants totaled 52% female entrants for this challenging 50-miler, which also coincided with the race “selling out” for the first time in its 19-year history.

Kaylee Frederick, 18, was the youngest competitor and came into the race having recently become the youngest ever to finish the grueling Badwater 135. Kaylee was accompanied at the Baker Ultra by her mother and role model, Georgetta, who finished within 15 minutes of Kaylee. Georgetta said of her daughter’s budding ultra-racing career, “I am so happy to have had the privilege of encouraging and supporting (Kaylee) on this journey.”

At the other end of the age spectrum was 72-year-old Penny Williams from Maryland. Williams holds an age group record for the legendary JFK 50-miler, in addition to completing a 100-mile race at the age of 70. “I believe if more women run ultras, it will inspire many more. And I’m hoping at age 72, I can inspire women to believe they can also,” said Williams. At age 73, Lee Doughtery was another inspirational participant at this year’s Baker. Dougherty, an equally accomplished ultrarunner, earned a buckle from the Leadville 100-miler at age 65.

Baker Ultra organizers are striving to encourage women to experiment with running longer distances and build the necessary confidence to progress using a variety of promotional incentives. Shannon Mick, a three-time participant in the Baker Ultra, shared her thoughts on the issue, “In some cases, women are told by society that they can’t or shouldn’t. ’Mom guilt’ is an issue when it comes to training and racing.”

The organizers launched an explicit recruitment initiative aimed at registering women. One of this year’s runners, Grayce Langeheine, said, “I think more women come when they’re invited.”

For the second year, race organizers hosted free group training runs, affording runners a preview of the course and a chance to meet other runners. These efforts were viewed as genuine confidence builders, especially among the women. Evie Kaszer, a Baker veteran, described the group runs as “… a supportive tribe of warriors battling the 50-mile challenge together.”

Rachel Carson Trails Conservancy (RCTC), the nonprofit organization that hosts the race and maintains the Baker Trail, received positive feedback after posting the gender metrics on their social media pages. A comment on Facebook read: “As a trans man who runs marathons, hikes for hours and camps with my (straight) wife: keep up the good work; it is appreciated.” RCTC’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Committee plans to have transgender and non-binary race categories in place for the 2024 race, mirroring the High Lonesome 100 event.

At the end of the day, the goal of the Baker Ultra is to support a race that attracts and celebrates all types of runners, regardless of speed, race or gender. Their aim is the celebration of a shared goal of running 50 miles. Mikala Shremshock, a participant this year and a winner of the 2021 race, summed up the effort necessary to make a race genuinely inclusive, “The Baker Ultra’s success serves as a reminder to race directors everywhere that building an inclusive running community requires more than just talk. It demands countless hours of work, relentless outreach and a genuine desire to bring everyone to the trails.”

Marissa Sisson and Kaylee Frederick

Virginia Mannion and family

Turkey along the Rachel Carson Trail

Deer in North Park

Are You a Hunter?

By Mark Eyerman

As a long time volunteer along the Rachel Carson Trail it was always a dream, often times it seemed a fantasy, to protect and preserve the trail. As an urban trail in a county of 1.25 million people, it's an amazing achievement to maintain a 45.7 mile trail, cobbled together with primarily private land. It's created issues through the years as property owners change and the trail must move to accommodate the new owners. However, our organization has grown and thanks to our members, donors and event participants we are now able to start purchasing key parcels of land to secure the trail. At present we have been able to acquire over 185 acres.

Being landowners now brings up something new for us, land management. While we acquired the land to protect the trail, we want to be good stewards of the land under our care. We want to protect and preserve the land, while making it available to other outdoor enthusiasts for various interests. One outdoor activity that folks enjoy, that actually helps protect and preserve the land is hunting. In our urbanized county we don't have large predators like wolves or mountain lions, so hunters can help fill that void and aid in controlling the animal populations.

We envision establishing a policy to regulate hunting on our various properties. We are first and foremost a hiking trail group, so any policy must assure the safety of our trail users. There is room however for responsible hunting, that addresses the safety concerns, if it is implemented in partnership with the hunting community.

As a volunteer organization however, no matter how important or beneficial a project is, everything we do is dependent on having people willing to work on that project. Our group currently has a lack people with experience and first hand knowledge of hunting, so this is an area of great need for us. If you'd like to help us develop a hunting policy for our property, or to help us with land management issues in general, please email info@rachelcarsontrails.org.

Volunteers Respond to Illegal Dumping

By Levi Wilson

It started as an amazing weather day in September and I figured I'd kill two birds with one stone -- get in a trail run and check the condition of the section of the Rachel Carson Trail that I steward.

As soon as I pulled into Agan Park, I noticed that someone illegally dumped trash again. There were old household items, papers, contractor trash, and lots of durable things like plastic that would be there for years if nothing was done.

I took pictures and looked through the paperwork to see if there was a name or address, but this stuff was super old. I also noticed that the trash spilled into a small stream.

As a Rachel Carson Trails Conservancy board member, I knew that we would have a contact to help get this investigated and cleaned up. Before I took off on my run, I emailed the board the pictures and location and within minutes I got an email back saying they would forward my report to the right people.

Back home after my run, I jumped on Facebook and saw a post from the local community about the trash dump. They were upset about this being done in their park and they began proposing ideas about how to get it cleaned up. I commented on the post letting everyone know that I was with the Rachel Carson Trails Conservancy board and also a trail steward and that we were already in contact with someone to get it cleaned up and to come up with ideas on how to prevent it from happening again.

Within a week or so, everything was cleaned up. I even checked the stream to make sure that it got cleaned up too. It was completely clean and if you didn't see it when it was there, you wouldn't know it was ever there.

This is one amazing way that the RCTC connects with communities to help ensure that our land will be here for future generations to enjoy and wildlife have a clean place to flourish.

Trash dumped

Trash removed

Chris Schuster & family

How I Got Involved

By Chris Schuster

My first experience with the Rachel Carson Trails Conservancy came at the beginning of 2018. My wife and I had just moved back to the Pittsburgh area from Northern Virginia and her aunt proposed we join her for the upcoming Rachel Carson Trail Challenge. Of course, I knew who Rachel Carson was, but had never heard of the trail nor the 35ish-mile trail challenge that was held annually. I had done some moderate hiking and my wife was an avid runner, so we applied and were fortunate enough to be selected. We spent the spring training and successfully completed the Full Challenge. My interest in the event and the trail was piqued!

We were selected again in 2019, but regrettably had to withdraw due to a family wedding. Then COVID hit, putting an end to the 2020 Challenge. Our next opportunity came in 2021. Training was slightly more challenging as our daughter (4-months old at the time) and our newly adopted German Shepherd accompanied us on all our training hikes…both turned out to be tremendous trail-goers!

It was during the ’21 Challenge that I had the pleasure of hiking a section of the trail with Bob Reiland. Bob had just concluded his tenure as  President of the Rachel Carson Trails Conservancy (RCTC). He was still an active board member as well as a trail steward and member of multiple trail committees. He explained all about the organization, the work that went into preparing the trail for the challenge as well as maintaining the trail throughout the year. He told me, if I was interested, I should reach out to Donna Stolz, the RCTC Volunteer Coordinator.

Two weeks later I inquired about volunteer opportunities to help maintain the trail and as fate would have it, there was an opening for a trail steward on the section of the Rachel Carson Trail right out my front door! Mark Eyerman and Donna met me with a set of tools, hiked the section with me, and I’ve been stewarding ever since!

After two seasons of volunteering, it was announced that the Board of Directors had multiple vacancies and I decided to apply. I have 10+ years of experience working in natural resource management but being able to advocate for and have an impact on the resources my family and I utilize every day is profound. I love the Rachel Carson Trail Challenge and the conservation/preservation and dedicated volunteer efforts that make it all possible.

There are many other opportunities for volunteers to help our wonderful organization. Please consider reaching out to Donna Stolz, our Volunteer Coordinator if you want to learn more about what you can do to help.

Rachel Carson Trails Conservancy, Inc.
P.O. Box 472
Wexford, PA 15090-0472