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The Commodore Perry Regional Trail (CPRT) got its start by chance. In January 2016, Planners from the neighboring communities of Pine and Marshall Townships in Allegheny County and Cranberry, Adams, and Jackson Townships in Butler County met to discuss common interests and development projects impacting their communities. Though diverse communities, the challenges facing each municipality and feedback from their residents were strikingly similar. The group began to meet monthly, calling themselves Planners In Action (PIA).
At a PIA session in Spring 2016, representatives from the Rachel Carson Conservancy met with the group to discuss potential trail connections from the Rachel Carson Trail through these northern Pittsburgh municipalities. The PIA team saw an opportunity – a regional trail connecting all five communities across two counties, five municipal parks, and several important commercial areas through the region.
The process began with each municipality sharing their existing trail connections and desired future trail construction at a PIA meeting. Each municipality offered different resources. Some produced GIS-based maps detailing current and future connections, while others went back to basics, hand-sketching trail designs on zoning maps and aerial images from Google. The resulting proposed connections were aggregated into one master GIS file and mapped for review by group members. From that mapping exercise, additional trail connection opportunities were discovered, marked, and mapped. It became clear that a gap existed in the area of Bradford Woods, nestled between Pine and Marshall Townships. Recognizing that those connections were critical to the success of the new trail network, the PIA team approached Bradford Woods officials regarding the opportunity to partner in this project. They enthusiastically signed on.
As the initial alignments were finalized, the group set out to prioritize their connections within their own communities. Each municipality provided a list of key projects for both the primary and secondary routes of the trail. Projects were prioritized in order of their deliverability, strategic locations, cost efficiency, and desirability. The resulting Priority Matrix serves as an important tool for the municipalities to work both jointly and singularly in completing key connections, searching for funding and receiving awards through funding opportunities, and tracking the successful completion of segments.
Anticipating the popularity of the trail to both residents and visitors, the group met with the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR) to discuss the trail plan and the validity of the network on a broader scale. DCNR recommended each community pass a resolution recognizing the trail, as well as document their respective community outreach and public participation efforts. The group was thrilled to realize that the trail could be classified as a Trail of Regional Significance by DCNR standards, opening the network to a variety of additional opportunities.
The trail had a route, tentative costs, partners, priorities, and recognition, but it did not have a name. The group’s challenge was to find a common thread between them, while trying to not overly recognize one municipality, one county, one area, or one other attribute. State Route 19 emerged as that common thread, the tie that bound the communities together, traversing northward from Pine, through the other communities and creating key economic opportunities. Route 19 is commonly known as the Perry Highway, and so the newly created trail network became the Commodore Perry Regional Trail, or the CPRT.
Planning cannot be completed in a vacuum. Public input is critical to the success of any community initiative, and the design and implementation of the CPRT was no exception. Each municipality completed a variety of community outreach efforts, including public forums, presentations to municipal boards and authorities, public input from municipal websites, listening posts at public events, and social media feedback. The draft CPRT plan was available for public review at each municipality’s administrative offices and on most of the municipalities’ websites.
The input received within each community was exceedingly positive. The PIA group discussed the feedback, tweaked the trail connections and overall plan where necessary, and provided updates to their constituents and elected officials. The plan was subsequently approved via resolution by each participating municipality.
Western Pennsylvania is not known for its collaboration among local governments. The PIA group itself is innovative – a collection of planners from neighboring communities meeting to discuss challenges and opportunities is a rarity in Western Pennsylvania. The completion of a trail connecting five municipal parks, as well as commercial districts and regionally significant recreational amenities, including Brush Creek, the Rachel Carson Trail, and Allegheny County’s North Park and its 3,000 acres of open space is unheard of in Western Pennsylvania. What started as a grass roots effort, will result in a network of pedestrian facilities that tie the six municipalities together, as well as all of Southwestern Pennsylvania.
The sharing of municipal resources and planning best practices, such as mapping techniques, development projections, materiality and design knowledge, and public outreach, came with a price tag of zero dollars. The creation of the CPRT plan cost the participating municipalities nothing aside from time and enthusiasm. This process perfectly acts as a model for other communities – large, small, urban, rural, affluent, struggling – to work together and produce viable, implementable, and creative projects that are impactful to their communities.
The CPRT is not your typical trail in terms of materiality and location. The CPRT uses community assets and existing infrastructure to traverse its way through the participating municipalities. While traditional trail portions do exist along its proposed route, the CPRT also incorporates sidewalks, sharrows, and other paved facilities commonly found in suburban areas. This approach is cost effective from an implementation standpoint and efficient in the use of existing infrastructure.
Implementation of the CPRT Plan is already underway. Of the identified gaps and missing links in the existing infrastructure of the CPRT, one is slated for construction this year, two have been approved for construction by local officials, and four have been submitted to grant funding opportunities. Additionally, four missing connections are set for construction over the next two years, with two other projects recently receiving grant funding for construction. The PIA group is currently meeting and collaborating on a signage plan for the trail to assist users in traversing the network between communities and to effectively brand the trail, making it identifiable within and between the participating communities. Further, the PIA group is working with DCNR to achieve official designation and recognition of the CPRT as a Trail of Regional Significance.
When the CPRT has reached full construction, the trail will connect more than 70,000 people through six municipalities, across 52 miles of trail and 3,815 acres of green space. Users will be able to walk from Jackson Township in the north to North Park in Pine Township on the southern end of the CPRT. They will have access by bicycle or foot to local businesses, natural amenities, recreational destinations, and other regional trail systems. Future connections to the CPRT are limitless. The trail could reach other communities to the north, south, east, or west, with the potential of connecting to the North Country Trail and allowing travelers to visit New York, North Dakota, or any place in between.