Laurel Highlands Trail Bridge to open in January

This is a repost of a recent Daily American Article
VICKI ROCK Daily American Staff Writer

Two years ago the Laurel Highlands Hiking Trail Bridge was closed because an inspection found major structural deficiencies.

The old bridge, built in 1970, was demolished. Now a replacement bridge is scheduled to be opened to recreational use on Jan. 6. A dedication ceremony will be scheduled for the spring.

The bridge spans the Pennsylvania Turnpike between the Somerset and Donegal interchanges. It connects the Laurel Highlands Hiking Trail, a 70-mile corridor running north and south through state parklands and the Forbes State Forest. The Bureau of State Parks owns the bridge.

“The removal of the old bridge cut the Laurel Highlands trail in half,” said Mike Mumau, Laurel Hill State Park complex manager. “It also cut the multi-use trail system in Forbes State Forest — about 120 miles of connected trails — in half.”

People who use snowmobiles or mountain bikes could only use half of the trail. There was a six-mile detour for hikers on township roads and forestry roads.

Mosites Construction Co. of Pittsburgh was awarded the contract of $1,297,060.  It was funded by the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources. The final work to be done includes installation of a protective cage over the bridge, installation of right of way fencing and trail gates and the final seeding and landscaping.

“People miss the bridge,” Mumau said. “It is arguably the most vital trail connection in Pennsylvania. It is a major link between the hiking trail and the multi-use systems that allow hiking, snowmobiling and equestrian use. It’s one of the main bridges in the system.”

Because the bridge was demolished, that gave park managers a chance to re-evaluate their plans, and they will now allow equestrians on the new larger, wider bridge in addition to hikers, mountain bikers and snowmobilers.

“It makes sense to work with our sister bureau, forestry, because mountain bikers and equestrians use the Forbes State Forest trails on both sides of the bridge,” he said. “Laurel Highlands Hiking Trail is still for foot traffic only. The signage directs people to the multi-use trails.”

Ed Callahan, district forester, Forbes State Forest, said there are some adventurous people who use the entire 120-mile Forbes trail system, which is near Route 30.

“When people want a long ride, this is it,” he said. “I know the snowmobilers especially will be glad to hear the bridge is opening. Not having a bridge cut the trail in half. This is a big deal for us.”

Another problem for the Forbes system was that the old bridge was too narrow for the snow grooming equipment to cross. The new bridge is wide enough.

“It is a nice, stunning bridge,” Mumau said. “Mosites Construction has done an outstanding job on this project and we are very pleased with it. This project moved very quickly. We’re excited it’s being opened for recreational groups. We look forward to it being in place for many years to come.”


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