Thursday, December 14, 2006

CUMBERLAND, Md. (AP) — George Washington wasn’t known for bicycling, but his spirit pervaded the opening yesterday of Maryland’s crucial link in a hiker-biker trail from near Pittsburgh to the District.

On the 207th anniversary of the first president’s death, elected officials cut a white ribbon marking completion of 21 miles of crushed limestone stretching from the state line to the western terminus of the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal.

Now people can pedal across the Eastern Continental Divide on the 143-mile Great Allegheny Passage from McKeesport, Pa., to Cumberland, and then continue an additional 184.5 miles along the Potomac River on the C&O towpath into Georgetown.

The nearly 328-mile route will grow to 337 miles when the final nine miles from McKeesport to Pittsburgh is built.

Biking isn’t the mode of transportation George Washington envisioned when he laid out the C&O Canal as part of a planned shipping route to the Ohio Valley, but it nearly parallels the path a young Washington followed during the French and Indian War in 1755 as part of Gen. Edward Braddock’s ill-fated attempt to capture Fort Duquesne from the French for the British.

With at least 250,000 trail users expected to pass through Cumberland annually, “it’s still about economics,” said Kevin Brandt, superintendent of the C&O Canal National Historical Park. “For all these little towns along the way from Pittsburgh to Washington, people still are deriving their livelihoods along this thoroughfare.”

Construction of the 21-mile Maryland section began in 2003 after more than a decade of planning. It cost $12.3 million, including about $8 million in federal funds and nearly $4 million from the state.

“I predict it’s going to have a notable and substantial impact on the economy of the region,” said Sen. Paul S. Sarbanes, Maryland Democrat, making one of his last public appearances before retiring in January.

Linda McKenna Boxx, president of the Allegheny Trail Alliance, which planned the Great Allegheny Passage, was glad to see the connection finally made.

“Some thought it might never get done. Others knew that if we just stuck to it, we’d get it done,” she said.

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