LEEPER AREA - It's a smooth surface now between Leeper north to the Clarion and Forest county line along the Rails 66 Country Trail.
Paving crews from Glenn O. Hawbaker last week completed the asphalt surface for an eight-mile section of trail between Car Mate in Leeper to the county line.
Rails 66 president Vince DiStefano said the paving turned out very well and the trail group is pleased with the result.
The paving leaves the 24-mile trail running from U.S. Route 322 near Dairy Queen to Forest County nearly 100 percent paved.
"We working on getting donations to pave what we call Segment Two in Knox Township next," explained DiStefano. "Segment Two is a four and a half mile section of the trail that is tar-and-chip, but is eight years old and needs some work."
Meanwhile, Jenks Township, Forest County, is working to pave the trail from Marienville south to the Clarion and Forest county line a six-mile stretch.
"They should have that done in November," said DiStefano.
The trail runs along the former B&O Railroad bed.
The Rail 66 Country Trail is Clarion County's part of that trail project.
It starts at a place once called Clarion Junction, west of Clarion in the village of Marianne.
From there it runs roughly parallel State Route 66 north through the villages of Lucinda, Snydersburg, Leeper, Crown and Vowinckel to become part of a 74-mile trail to the famous Kinzua Bridge.
The Headwaters Charitable Trust purchased all 74 miles of the rail line in Clarion County, Forest, Elk and McKean counties to Kinzua Bridge State Park. Headwaters then put Rail 66 in charge of the 24 miles of the Clarion County trail.
DiStefano said the popularity of the trail is increasing and use of the trail is up.
Rails 66 estimates more than 3,000 people had used the trail by the end of June this year.
"I'd say it doubled this year," said DiStefano. "We have trail counters but I don't have the numbers available right now, but I'd say the use of the trail doubled this year easily doubled."
Two factors in the increased use, DiStefano said, are likely the COVID-19 emergency pushing more people outdoors and into social-distanced activities such as trail use, and positive word of mouth spreading from the people who are using the trail.
The Rail 66 Country Trail does not allow motorized vehicles.
The trail was purchased and developed by private donations and grants and is covered by liability insurance that prohibits the use of motorized vehicles.
ATV, dirt bike, snowmobile and equine use raise liability issues that insurers are unwilling to accept and grants prohibit.
DiStefano said the development of the trail and the paving of the surface has been the successful work of volunteers and donations.
"It's really been incredible," said DiStefano. "We have relied on volunteers for the prep work of the trail volunteer labor and donations of materials and equipment."
Rails 66 estimates more than 1,000 volunteer hours were dedicated to the trail so far this year.
The state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources awarded a $400,000 grant to Trails 66 to help pay for the paving.
"We're looking for donations to help complete Segment Two," said DiStefano.
The estimated cost of paving Segment Two is $215,000.
On its Facebook page, Rails 66 officials said the organization has exhausted its grant options for this year and with the strains on government spending, it seems unlikely to secure a grant next year.
Rail 66 has lead sponsors who pledged $100,000 as a match challenge to others to contribute the second $100,000.
Anyone interested in making a donation should send their contribution to: Rail 66 Country Trail, PO Box 103, Lucinda, Pa. 16235. Please make your checks payable to Rail 66 Country Trail.
One hundred percent of contributions will be used to pave the trail and is tax deductible.
Rail 66 has no employees and pays no volunteer personal expenses.