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Clearwater, Penn State see Musser Gap Greenway project to fruition

Co-project managers Judith Larkin, with Penn State, left, and Katie Ombalski, with ClearWater Conservancy, talk about the creation of the the greenway project, which connects Musser Gap in Rothrock State Forest to the Centre Region Bikeway system.
Co-project managers Judith Larkin, with Penn State, left, and Katie Ombalski, with ClearWater Conservancy, talk about the creation of the the greenway project, which connects Musser Gap in Rothrock State Forest to the Centre Region Bikeway system. CDT photos

It may only be a short trail, just half a mile, but it was a long road to the completion of the Musser Gap Greenway along Shingletown Road.

Representing several years of hard work and a collaboration between Penn State and ClearWater Conservancy, the greenway officially opens Friday. It provides a constructed and defined corridor between the Musser Gap trail in Rothrock State Forest and the greater State College community.

The greenway begins near the mouth of the Musser Gap Trail — about one mile east of the intersection of state Routes 45 and 26, cuts across Route 45 at a clearly defined crossing point and continues north, connecting with a farm lane on Penn State-owned property.

The farm lane continues on to Whitehall Road, creating an unbroken path from the trail to the High Point Park neighborhood.

ClearWater Conservancy purchased the 423-acre property where the greenway begins from a private developer in 2006, conservation biologist Katie Ombalski said. The property was then turned over to Rothrock State Forest for conservation purposes.

“It was originally supposed to be a housing development,” she said. “By transferring it over to Rothrock, it becomes public land.”

Because of the geology of the land, she said, water sinks into a ground aquifer, then travels toward a State College Borough Water Authority well field. Because the land is outside the regional growth boundary, any development on the land would have had to use a septic system.

“For the protection of source water, it was very important for the community to protect (the land),” Ombalski said. “The primary importance (of the mountain) is the sheer size and how many species of birds it supports. So our interest is to protect and buffer Rothrock as much as we can and make it bigger by protecting lands around the periphery.”

The greenway will be further enhanced by the eventual construction of the Whitehall Road Regional Park, she said.

As part of the construction of the park, Blue Course Drive will be extended beyond Whitehall into the park area, acting as a trail head, according to Centre Region Parks and Recreation Director Ron Woodhead. The trail would then follow the east side of the park, connecting with the existing farm lane to the greenway.

“It’s an evolution of this larger landscape conservation effort,” Ombalski said. “And recreation is always an important part of our conservation projects because we want people to be able to get out and appreciate the resources we’re protecting.”

The trail is open to pedestrian and non-motorized vehicles only, according to signage along the path. No horses, motorcycles or ATVs are allowed, due largely in part to its special covering developed at Penn State.

“It is a well-thought out and developed blend of varying sized aggregate, that, when compacted, bond and produce a very durable biking/walking surface,” said Penn State facilities project manager Judith Larkin.

Larkin said she thinks “this trail contributes an experience that appeals to all different levels.”

“You’ve got switchbacks and curves,” she said. “You have grade changes with some challenges on the hills. You have flat areas for all fitness levels.”

The project’s total cost was $380,000. The Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources provided a $238,000 grant, with a $28,000 investment from Penn State and $114,000 in private grants, donations and contributions.

DCNR has been making improvements on the Musser Gap Trail, Ombalski said. Further changes are expected to be completed by next summer.

Being able to connect to the trails in Rothrock is important for Penn State and local cycling enthusiasts, said Centre Region Planning Agency senior planner Trish Meek.

The League of American Cyclists rates and recognizes communities on its miles of single track — single lane tracks for hiking or cycling. The greenway now gives another single-lane track to a community where cycling is popular, enhancing the area’s appeal.

“From a perspective of how the Bicycle Friendly Community (program) evaluates and gives awards for an area ... providing access to single-track trails in the forest is significant,” Meek said.

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