More details: http://www.butlerfreeporttrail.org/buffalo-creek-half/
All New Start – Cabot Methodist Church 707 Winfield Rd, Cabot, PA 16023 Finish- 2nd Street, Ext, Freeport, PA 16229
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Ron Bennett, First President of the BFCTC, presented this speech at the First Annual Dinner April 10, 2011
I was honored when asked to spend a few moments to talk about our trail. When my friend and tireless trail volunteer – Art Borland, asked me to talk about the trail, I asked him how long I needed to speak. He said about 20 minutes or so. My problem now is how do you condense 20 plus years into 20 minutes.
One-day long ago I was minding my own business, merrily moving along in life without a care in the world. I was reading the paper one night and saw a tiny article, several sentences long that said that buffalo township was looking into converting a railroad into a walking and biking trail. I remember thinking that was a pretty neat idea. I thought I should check out this possible trail. At the time I was into bike riding. My problem was, where the heck is this railroad they are talking about, and where was Buffalo Township?
Although I drove over the railroad tracks on the way to church every Sunday I really never noticed them. After I did a little research, I had my wife drop me off one Saturday at Cabot and told her to meet me in Sarver a few hours later. Little did I know that couple of hours spent walking that railroad bed would change my life in so many ways.
I was truly amazed and overwhelmed by the natural beauty and the solitude that the rail line offered up to me that day. All I could think about was what a potential gem there was right here in our back yard. I wondered how many other people would like to enjoy this scenic corridor.
I went to the next buffalo township meeting and asked how I could help the township in researching this possible project. A township supervisor with an unusual first name told me to see what kind of support I could find. That supervisor was the one and only “Ouch” Roenigk. A citizen from Buffalo Township, Ernie Bragle, had been talking with the supervisors about this concept called rails to trails. This was a new concept that was in the very early stages of development. Ernie and I talked some and agreed to work together to see what we could do.
A few weeks later, on black Friday, the day after thanksgiving, Ernie, a friend of his and myself meet at his house in Buffalo Township and rode route 356 down to Freeport. We then started up the railroad bed heading for butler. By the way, the ballast was still on the rail bed and most of the ties had been pulled. Talk about a rough ride. One of the reasons I remember that day so well is that I my back had gone out the day before. I had spent all thanksgiving day flat on my back – other than while I was eating. Barely able to lift my bike onto the bike rack, I considered myself certifiably insane that morning. We rode all the way to Herman that day. I was even more impressed after that ride and more convinced that we had to make this project a reality. We then took the road back to Ernie’s house. By some miracle, my back was jarred back into place and I felt fine. This was the first of many miracles I would experience along the trail.
Fast forward a few months. We had passed around some petitions and came up with over 700 local citizens who supported the idea of making the rail bed into a trail. Buffalo Township, along with Winfield, Jefferson and summit townships, started to meet on a monthly basis to discuss this project.
About this time we volunteers decided to formally organize. At a meeting at my home, we first had to decide on a name for our new group. After a lot of discussion, we realized that the proposed trail would connect a number of small communities and also connect the metropolises of butler and Freeport. I am not sure who came up with the name, but we chose to call ourselves the Butler-Freeport Community Trail council, and by default, we also named the trail that night. We all felt that the word community belonged in the name. Our vision was that this would truly be a community trail.
Along the way a lot of mis-information was being spread about the impact this trail would have on the community. Opposition, both local and from out of the area descended on the townships. Many adjacent landowners were concerned about the trails possible impact. Since this rails to trails concept was new, they were justified in questioning this project. While we felt that honest open dialog with all parties would eventually allow things to fall into place, the outside opposition did all they could to disrupt this project.
Many of the monthly railroad meetings as they came to be called, were nonproductive as the opposition only wanted to tell their side. Cooler heads prevailed on the board of supervisors for the various townships and they continued to move forward and at the same time, convince the opponents that this would be a great project. The buffalo township supervisors along with Winfield and Jefferson decided to go ahead and purchase the rights to the railroad to construct a trail and most importantly, preserve the corridor for possible future re-activation as a rail line. This was miracle number 2. It took a substantial amount of courage and determination for the townships to take this bold step. The corridor was preserved under the federal rails to trail act and also the Pennsylvania rails to trails act .this legal action is called rail-banking – setting aside the use of the land as a railroad for possible re-activation sometime in the future while using the corridor in the interim as a non-motorized recreational trail. Fast forward again. On October 4th of 1992 we had an official trail opening of the section from Cabot to Sarver. The trail surface was basically the fine material that was left from the ballast that was then graded and rolled. Trail volunteers had installed wooden railings on the five bridges in that section. Most of the funding had come from an environmental fine that was paid by a butler county company. The state attorney general arranged for the grant that gave us the funds to get the trail underway. The butler county commissioners also provided a grant for initial construction. Things progressed nicely and Buffalo Township was successful in landing a large federal ISTEA (intermodal surface transportation enhancement act) grant that allowed them to construct the trail from the northern end of the bridge north of Monroe road to the south end of the Herman Bridge. Miracle # 3 one day as the contractors were working on the trail, word came down that some adjacent landowners had filed a lawsuit to stop construction of the trail. The lawsuit was filed against the townships, the township supervisors, the trail council and myself. After consulting with a number of legal experts on the issue of rail banking, the townships decided to fight the lawsuits and not give in to the pressure from the opponents. Miracle # 4 for roughly the next 10 years, the trail was tied up in litigation. Township railroad meetings were suspended, our trail council was meeting only several times a year and most of our time was spent meeting with lawyers and attending court hearings. However, even though this legal rangeling was going on work quietly continued on the trail. We won public utility commission approval to raise the height of the Herman Bridge instead of removing it, which would have possibly ended the eventual construction of the trail into Buter. We obtained a Pennsylvania department of conversation and natural resources grant to raise the bridge and install a concrete deck and railings, and also install a wood deck and railing on the Monroe Bridge. Miracle # 5 as the lawsuit slowly worked its way through the legal system, we were cautiously optimistic about the eventual outcome. We won the case in the Butler County Court of Common Pleas. The opponents then appealed to the state commonwealth court were we again won. Next they appealed to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. On December 31, 2002, on New Years Eve, Larry Lutz, buffalo township solicitor called me with the good news that the township had won the lawsuit when the Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled in favor of the trail and upholding the butler county court ruling made years before. The last attempt by the opponents was asking the United States Supreme Court to hear the case. Miracle #6 fast forward again. A young woman with a beautiful smile that had been getting more involved with the trail council finally agreed to accept my plea for someone to step forward to replace me as president. Those of you, who have come to know Chris Ziegler, know what I mean when I say she personifies the phrase – lead or get out of my way. Chris not only took over as president, she has taken this trail to the next level. I am confident that only good things and more miracles will continue to bless this trail. I sleep well at night knowing that Chris is fully devoted to keeping our dreams alive for this trail. Chris Ziegler – miracle # 7 I am sure I would miss some very important names if I attempted to list all the people who have contributed to this project. You know who you are. Everyone here has played an important part in one way or another. We have the greatest, most caring and dedicated volunteers I have ever encountered. I think we also have the most fun. If you have not experienced a work day, you are missing out on a lot of laughs and hard work. I would be remiss if I did not take a moment to acknowledge several very special people. One is my lovely wife Jan who stood by me all those years of meetings, court hearings and volunteer work days. The other person that I need to acknowledge and believe me we I say that if it were not for the guy with the funny first name, Ouch Roenigk, this trail would never have happened. Ouch Roengik – miracle # 8, 9 and 10 the measure of a trails success is not in miles or number of bridges or parking lots or trail signs. The true measure of a trail is the little miracles that happen along it every day. The toddler learning to ride a bike, the family out reconnecting with nature and each other, the out of shape person that now uses the trail for walking and getting healthy, the runner completing their life’s goal of running a half-marathon. Those types of miracles are what make our trail so great. The next time you are on the trail – look for those little miracles. Better yet, make some of your own. Thank you for allowing me to be a part of this 21-mile long trail of miracles.