Preserving and Promoting Community Trails
in Western Pennsylvania

Improving and Protecting Our Trails through Property Acquisition

By John Stephen

By the end of 2019, the RCTC expects to close on its largest property acquisition to date. The parcel is 17 acres of woodland in Allegheny County that will allow us to eliminate the western segment of Murray Hill Road in Frazer Township along the Rachel Carson Trail.

The property has been owned by the Pugh family for over 80 years and extends to the intersection with Riddle Run Road. The Conservancy’s Safer Trails Committee is investigating alternatives to hiking along roads and this acquisition came about through that effort.

The parcel is in Frazer Township, along the border with East Deer Township, and in fact the seven-acre parcel just to the north is owned by East Deer, making 24 contiguous acres of open space above the Allegheny River.

The Pugh family originally purchased the farmland in 1937. When Route 28 was constructed, Murray Hill Road was realigned to its current location, dividing the Pugh farm into two parts. No buildings were ever constructed on the parcel to be acquired. Jeanne Prior, one of the current owners and granddaughter of the original owners, says the property was lightly farmed and even, for a time, included in informal baseball field maintained by the family.

We anticipate that the Rachel Carson Trail will be rerouted through this parcel in time for the 2020 Rachel Carson Trail Challenge.

Blaze Fever and the 2,000 Miler Club

By Doug MacPhail

I am addicted to blazes painted on trees, in particular, those that are white and yellow. I follow them everywhere. White blazes mark the 2,192-mile Appalachian Trail, spanning 14 states from Georgia to Maine. Yellow blazes mark the 45-mile Rachel Carson Trail between Wexford and Harrison Hills Park in Western Pennsylvania.

I first heard about the Rachel Carson Trail and 35-mile Rachel Carson Trail Challenge in 2005. I promptly called my friend, Hiker John, in Columbus to ask if this endurance event was doable. He said “yes” and offered to hike the Challenge with me. He had previously thru-hiked the entire Appalachian Trail (AT) in one season. I was a runner and had spent little time in the woods beyond childhood. The Challenge was held on a hot Saturday in June. We managed to finish, with great satisfaction, at the Bobwhite Shelter in a little over 15 hours. That’s when I first got hooked on yellow blazes!

Subsequently, in 2007, Hiker John introduced me to the AT by arranging a three-day backpacking trip to Grayson Highlands in Southern Virginia to see the wild ponies. It was on that trip that I caught white blaze fever! I became a section hiker, visiting the trail 2-3 times a year and recording my mileage with a goal of one day completing the entire AT.

On August 30 of this year, summiting the northern terminus of the Appalachian Trail at Mt. Katahdin in Maine, I became a member of the “2,000 Miler Club!” The final stretch was not easy, requiring me to hike 320 miles in 26 days, up and over the many steep, rocky climbs of New Hampshire and Maine. Overall, completing the AT has been physically and mentally demanding, but has given me so much in return.

My twelve year AT journey was greatly aided by the wonderful weekly training hikes with friends on the Rachel Carson Trail, which also prepared us for the 35-mile Challenge each year. Our training group enjoys the beauty of all four seasons on the “Rachel,” with winter being our favorite time of year in the woods.

New Hiking Trail South of Hartwood Acres Park

By John Stephen

The RCTC’s work on community trail connections to the Rachel Carson Trail advanced this year south of Hartwood Acres Park with help from Landforce Pittsburgh. Supported by a grant from the Laurel Foundation, crews from Landforce spent several days building trail down an eroding hillside out of the Park and cleared and graded a treadway through the meadow beneath the power lines. The route through the meadow was lightly seeded as a buffer between the bare treadway and the meadow.

The Conservancy thanks our neighbors and the property owners adjacent to Hartwood Acres, including Hodil Stables, and along Five Acres Drive for their cooperation and assistance with the new trail. This new segment of trail uses the six acre parcel beneath the power lines that the RCTC received as a gift two years ago and is part of a planned spur connection from the Rachel Carson Trail to Beechwood Farms Nature Reserve and the Squaw Run Trail.

Presently access to this new trail segment is limited at the south end. At Five Acres Drive off of Saxonburg Boulevard, there is room for two cars to park. At the north end in Hartwood Acres Park, access is across the road from the mansion parking lot.

Closing the gap between these open spaces will create a continuous hiking trail from the Allegheny River in O’Hara to the Rachel Carson Trail and North Park, Harrison Hills Park, the Harmony Trail, and beyond. When complete, this long trail spur will pass through or near large wooded open spaces, stream valleys, and historic homesteads, including one recently acquired by Fox Chapel from the Hardie family. The result will bring trails and greenspace to underserved Allegheny River towns and within reach of the City of Pittsburgh.

The new trail is looking for a name and selection of a blaze color. It is anticipated that we'll have a late winter hike along the route to unveil those final details.

The Conservancy thanks its collaborators including the Fox Chapel Land Conservation Trust, Beechwood Farms, Allegheny County Parks, and Landforce Pittsburgh.

Observing the Bald Eagles of North Park

By Amy Nelson

Meet Howard Kepple, Susan Post, William Finlay and Walter McKinnis. Collectively, they have over 100 years of photography experience. Having only met this year, they now form a team dedicating hours observing and photographing a pair of nesting bald eagles in North Park. This group enjoys sharing their knowledge of the birds with interested locals. Howard’s North Park Bald Eagles Facebook page is exploding in popularity. The team has created a sense of fascination and fellowship around a species that only shed the “endangered” designation in 2007. The focus on the two eagles of North Park seems to offer a welcome respite from the polarized atmosphere of the political scene.

Observations shared by the team included:

  • The male, Mr. Carson, is an estimated 6 years old. Ms. Rachel’s age is undetermined. Her wingspan is a whopping 7 feet, making her larger than her partner.
  • Their names are derived from the Rachel Carson Trail, which runs beneath their nest (and which is temporarily rerouted in the area because of that fact).
  • The eagles’ primary reason for setting up residence in North Park is use of the lake as a food source.
  • The eagles’ departure each summer is part of a natural pattern. As Susan describes it, “They vacation separately. Mr. Carson and Ms. Rachel do not spend their summers together.”
  • The eagles produced an egg last spring, although this was disputed by some local birders. Unfortunately, the egg did not survive.
  • The North Park eagles are expected to produce one or two eggs near the end of February or early March of 2020.
  • Between now and the end of February, they will continue to improve the nearly 2,000-pound nest, which has an interior size approaching that of a queen bed. (The largest recorded bald eagle nest weighed almost 3 tons.)

The team members are enthusiastic promoters of the eagles and willingly share their knowledge and understanding. When asked how long they intend to maintain their vigilance, each team member invariably offers the same answer: As long as the eagles are here, we will be here.

Got a Phone? Explore the RCTC Geotrail!

By Kathleen Ganster and Paul Sauers

Some days it’s hard to get motivated to get out and get some exercise. Well, geocaching may just be that motivation.

It is a bit hard to describe geocaching – a combination of hiking, some problem solving, and a lot of treasure hunting.

Often referred to as the “world’s largest treasure hunt,” there are now over 3 million geocaches in over 190 countries. Using a simple app on a smartphone or hand-held GPS, you can find “treasures” – called caches. Caches are containers that can vary from miniscule to very large and hold small trinkets and other tokens including trackable items along with logbooks. Cachers choose a fun name for themselves that they use to register and log their finds on the geocaching.com website. It is a great activity for families and children!

Caches can be located just about anywhere – in parks, along hiking trails, even in guardrails and are rated on terrain and difficulty in the find to assist in planning.

In 2018, the Conservancy designed the RCTC Geotrail to introduce more people to the Rachel Carson Trail. The RCTC Geotrail consists of 40 caches located along the trail which vary in difficulty and terrain to find. Cache locations were placed with families with children in mind. The geotrail was put into place by three Rachel Carson Trail hikers and participants of the Challenge. These volunteers are all avid cachers.

The Conservancy also designed two commemorative coins just for the RCTC Geotrail. Each cache contains a clue about Rachel Carson or the trail and cachers who log the name of the caches with the hints are eligible for the coins. Those who find 26 caches may receive one coin and those who locate all 40 will receive another! These keepsake coins are only for those who have completed the RCTC Geotrail. There is no charge to participate in geocaching and the RCTC Geotrail.

Many cachers are already finding the caches and logging their results! Several have already found at least 26 of RCTC geocaches and been awarded the commemorative coin and are working on finding all 40 of the caches. We have also had a few ambitious cachers who have earned the RCTC Geotrail 40 cache commemorative coin. Will you be one of them?

For more information about geocaching including how to register visit www.geocaching.com. You can also download the free geocaching app for your smartphone. Please feel free to email any questions to Paul Sauers.

And while you are completing the RCTC Geotrail, be sure to register and keep track of your miles for the RCTC 100 Mile Quest!

How I Got Involved

By Donna Stolz, Board Member, Volunteer Coordinator

Training for a marathon in 2005, I would religiously do my long training runs around the five mile North Park lake loop every weekend. During early spring, these unassuming white signs popped up along the kiosks that dotted the North Park circuit, inviting those that paid any attention: “34 Miles in One Day”. Hmmm. What’s this all about? There wasn’t a whole lot of information on the flyers. An email to the info@ address filled me in on the event and what was needed. So, I signed up. It was scheduled on a long run day (20 miles, and I hate running) so I would do this instead.

I am originally from New England and hiked the White and Green Mountains growing up, so how hard could this “challenge” be? When I told my lab staff what I was doing, they — much younger men — decided they would do it too.

Going from North Park to Harrison Hills Park, I lost my colleagues at about mile three when I started to run the roads. The first eight miles were an awesome walk in the park. Then…Rich Hill and all those other “named” hills. When I finally got to the end, 13 hours later, I was destroyed. I had never done anything so difficult, or so enjoyable.

Back at work, my colleagues and I shared our war stories of the event, but we were unanimous in that it was really awful. “Why did we ever do that?” we asked ourselves as we limped around the lab for the next several days. Then, in unison one day at lunch we all said, “You know what? I’m going to do it again!”

The second time we were much better prepared, we had the right shoes, gear and training. It was during that second year that we thought about all the effort and planning that went into such an amazing event. We noticed that there were very few sponsors on the t-shirts, compared to all the other events we had collected t-shirts from. There were no toilets at the checkpoints, why weren’t there switchbacks on the trail? Why were there wet crossings? As my colleagues and I walked the Challenge the second time, we made a list of questions we wanted answers to. I compiled my list and sent them off to info@, not expecting a reply. My reply was a phone call from Marian Crossman, a member of the Conservancy and board member.

Marian invited me to a board meeting to discuss my concerns…and convinced me that if I was going to complain, I’d better be prepared to help remedy the situation. So, I accepted her challenge. I have been involved since 2008, first on the board, then on various committees. As a 100% volunteer organization every little bit helps to strengthen the community and the cause. These events and trails only exist because of volunteers.

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