Great Allegheny Passage: Cumberland to Pittsburgh
Imagine you have spent a day wandering historic Cumberland, Maryland, and you find yourself pondering a walk west, toward the Ohio Valley. Over the entire region, the way west is limited to few routes. In fact, if your map was dreadfully out of date—say a hundred and fifty years—it would look oddly familiar to today's map. Now there is the interstate highway through Cumberland, making it possible to travel the old route at higher speeds. But, except for the first few miles west of Cumberland, the new route is essentially the same as the old one.
On the map, the rail lines snaking north and south, as well as the couple running east and west, look the same today as they did generations ago. The coal, minerals and timber extracted from the mountains made their way into Cumberland on narrow-gauge railroads. The abundant natural resources helped make Cumberland into one of America's early industrial centers. The wares made there were shipped east along the railroad and canal. Then, as now, all traffic west goes along the steep hillside above Braddock Run.
Looking at the maps, you quickly understand the entire story of the Potomac River, America's westward expansion, and the significance of the Potomac Heritage National Scenic Trail. You can see how typography shapes transportation, and how transportation shapes a region.
There is one route west that does not follow Braddock Run — the corridor of the Allegheny Central Railroad — a spectacular passage above Jennings Run. It is today the route of the Western Maryland Scenic Railroad and what was formerly called the Allegheny Highlands Trail, following the rail line to Frostburg, then northwest over Big Savage Mountain and along tributaries of the Youghiogheny River to the River's mainstem at Ohiopyle.
The highland views from Big Savage Mountain, the riverside trail in the lower elevations, and the varied countryside are attracting increasing numbers of visitors. But the Great Allegheny Passage (GAP) trail system between Cumberland and Pittsburgh is also a great conservation story. It represents a triumph of many people working together to preserve rail corridors for trail use, fund public and private funding for trail construction, and establish what is becoming one the world's great multi-use trails. Known collectively as the Allegheny Trail Alliance, the group has published guidebooks, maps and interpretive pamphlets about the trail and the heritage it preserves.
For hikers seeking solitude, the best bet for hiking Frostburg to Ohiopyle is early mornings and late afternoons or, better still, the cooler months. Perhaps the best way of all to enjoy the Trail on foot might be to strap on some cross-country skis. The GAP was designated a segment of the Potomac Heritage National Scenic Trail in 2003.