Day 1 – Great Allegheny Passage – Pittsburgh to West Newton

Point State Park Fountain

Bill and I began our 330 mile trip back to Washington on Sunday Morning. Much like Dorothy, we had to begin at the beginning, only our road was not yellow. Our beginning was the beautiful fountain at Point State Park at the confluence of the Allegheny, Monongahela and Ohio Rivers. We decided to start the ride and then, before leaving Pittsburg, find a place for breakfast.

The first few miles were on The Three Rivers Heritage Trail weaving its way through downtown Pittsburgh and threading through a series of elevated highways before settling down on a path along the north bank of the Monongahela. After a few miles, we crossed the river using the Hot Metal Bridge, with a great view back toward downtown.

On the south bank of the river is an area called Southside Flats, a mix of 19th Century residential and new modern multi unit apartments and condominiums, which replaced the steel mills that once lined the Monongahela. The name Hot Metal Bridge refers to the fact that the bridge carried crucibles of molten iron in ladle cars across the river to the open hearth furnaces of the J and L Steel Mill. During WWII, it is estimated that 15% of all US produced steel crossed over this bridge. Today the two spans have been converted, one for automobile traffic and the other, a dedicated bike/pedestrian path.

After crossing the bridge we deviated off the trail for a few blocks and had breakfast at Waffle INCaffeinated. We must have been just in time. We were seated immediately. But, in just a few minutes, there was a long line.

After breakfast, we were back on the bikes heading east. This first day ride, was only to be around 36 miles and, quite frankly, will be the least scenic day of the trip. But we managed a few moments of note.

About 12 miles into the day, we encountered this sight.

These 12 smokestacks were part of Andrew Carnegie’s Homestead Steel Works, the largest steel facility in the world. The stacks off vented heat from the red hot ingots, waiting to be milled into 45 inch steel slabs. This was the location of the 1892 Homestead Steel Strike and Lockout between Carnegie Steel and The Amalgamated Association of Iron and Steel Workers which was a pivotal moment in American labor relations. Today, these towers stand sentinel over a Loews Theater, Costco and Courtyard by Marriott. They are a reminder of what once was. Although, throughout the day, we saw these reminders of the former great mills. We also saw evidence of the land being repurposed into various uses. I think that was the surprising take away for me. Yes, the mighty steel facilities are gone, but the land remains and is being used in a variety of ways. It is not as I had expected.

Up until we reached McKeesport, we were using the long existing Three Rivers Heritage and Steel Valley Trails. But, after going up and over a hill near the river’s edge, we finally reached the converted rail trail that will make up the remainder of the GAP trail portion of our ride to DC.

The trail is on the former path of the Pittsburgh and Lake Erie Railroad. Formed in 1875, the railroad, known as the Little Giant, because of its huge payload volumes, carried both coal from the mines to Pittsburgh and finished steel to main line rail corridors in Youngstown, Ohio. Although Lake Erie was in its name, it actually did not make it to Lake Erie. Becoming part of Conrail in the 1970s and later CSX, the rail was finally abandoned in 1992, due in large part to the declining steel industry.

After leaving McKeesport, we passed two reminders of the environmental challenges the mining industry creates Long after the mines have closed these two waterfalls still flow.

The white fall, on the left is caused by aluminum sulfate and the red/rust is from iron. Both falls have high concentrations of sulfuric acid traveling downstream into nearby creeks and rivers.

After another 10 miles, or so, we arrived at our destination for the night, the little village of West Newton and our guesthouse, Bright Morning B&B.

Diner was at the Trailside Pub, watching the 49ers defeat the Pittsburgh Steelers. I had to keep my cheering very quiet. Then off to bed. Day 2 will find us on the trail to Ohiopyle.

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