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North Hills Monthly

Take a Hike! Rachel Carson Trails Conservancy Preserves, Promotes Community Trails

Feb 28, 2019 05:23PM ● By Hilary Daninhirsch

A fall hike brings lots of people to the trails. Photo courtesy of RCTC

Spring is almost here, which means that the outdoors is beckoning. For something a little more challenging, why not explore the trails managed by the Rachel Carson Trails Conservancy? We spoke with Bob Mulshine, the president of the nonprofit, about the network of trails and the appeal of exploring what the conservancy has to offer.

North Hills Monthly (NHM): What is the mission of the Rachel Carson Trails Conservancy (RCTC)?

Bob Mulshine (Mulshine): The conservancy is committed to preserving and promoting community trails in western Pennsylvania.

NHM: Tell me about the Rachel Carson network of trails—how many trails are there, where are they located, and about how much ground do they cover?

Mulshine: We maintain three trails: the Harmony Trail in Wexford is short, less than a mile long, but it’s a rails-to-trails type. It is broad and surfaced with crushed limestone so it’s easy to bike on or to push a stroller on.

We also maintain the Baker Trail, which is about 130 miles long. It starts around Freeport and goes all the way to north of Cook Forest.

The Rachel Carson Trail is 47 miles long. Last year we extended the Rachel Carson Trail so it reaches the Harmony Trail. The western terminus of Rachel Carson starts at the Harmony Trail and it proceeds through Pine Township and over to North Park, and then goes nine miles through North Park into northern Allegheny County all the way to Harrison Hills Park.

NHM: What is the terrain like on each of these trails?

Mulshine: Terrain on the Harmony Trail is family friendly, flat, smooth, and wide open.

Terrain on the Rachel Carson Trail is varied, with some areas being quite difficult. Most of the land that was easy to develop in the area was developed, so what was left for the trail was undevelopable land that goes straight up and down hills that are sometimes quite steep. Utility rights of way are used, along with some county and local parks. Most of the Rachel is referred to as single track because the trail is only carved wide enough for one person. It crosses a good number of streams, goes through a horse farm, and there are a few places where you have to walk on public roads. You also go through local parks, and part of the trail goes past Rachel Carson’s homestead. You will hit a lot of different terrains with a lot of different views.

The Baker Trail is not as hilly as the Rachel Carson; you’ve got a good number of small hills, with long, wide-open stretches where you’re going through farmland. At Cook Forest, you go through a hemlock forest that is so thick that even at noon on a sunny day the light in the forest is like dusk. With that many miles, you’ll get a lot of variety.

NHM: Tell me about the Rachel Carson Trail Challenge.

Mulshine: The first one was in 1996. It was the brainchild of two gentlemen that started it because they wanted to keep boots on the trail; if you don’t have people walking on a trail on a regular basis, nature will take it over and the trail will be lost. The event grew to where now, in 2019, we have to do a lottery because we can’t accommodate the number of people who want to do the Challenge; we have to cap the participation at 600 for the full challenge.

We do three events: the Full is 35 miles, and then the Half, and then Friends and Family, which is an eight-mile hike. All three groups start at different times but walk in the same direction on the same trial and end up at the same location, where we have a big picnic. 

Every year it’s on the Saturday closest to the summer solstice; this year it’s on June 22, and we hold it rain or shine.

NHM: Do you also hold other events?

Mulshine: This past year we extended the Rachel Carson Trail to meet the Harmony Trail, and to do that we had to put a bridge in over Wexford Run. This opened up more distance available by the Harmony Trail, so we had our first ever Harmony Trail Heroes 5K last October. On the Baker Trail, we do the Baker Ultra Challenge in August, which is a 50-mile run and helps us keep that trail alive.

NHM: What opportunities are there for volunteers?

Mulshine: We have a lot of volunteer opportunities. Some of our volunteers do work year-round and some help with events or projects. The trails are divided into sections that are two to four miles long, and we get one to two volunteers for each section. Those volunteers, our trail stewards, are responsible for keeping the yellow blazes updated by repainting them every couple of years, keeping the trails clear of litter and addressing downed trees and branches. 

On the days of events, we need a lot of volunteers! We need people to help out at the rest stops and to help out at the finish line, which stays open for hours, as the amount of time between the first and last finishers is considerable.

During the year we have maintenance events. For example, we might be forced to reroute a section of a trail because it was running along a stream and the bank collapsed, or there is a segment of trail not available due to construction and we have to build new trails to get around it. We’ll put out a request for volunteers to show up at a certain time with their work gloves.

NHM: What is the 100 Mile Quest?

Mulshine: It is an incentive to get people out and using our trails. You can register on our website https://www.rachelcarsontrails.org/trails/quest100. You can find a form there for logging your miles. Send it back within a year of signing up with 100 or more miles listed, and you will receive a cool patch to memorialize your accomplishment.

Another inducement we offer to encourage people to get out and use the trails is geocaching, often referred to as the ‘world’s largest treasure hunt.’ We have 40 caches placed along the trail. Each cache contains a clue about Rachel Carson or the trail. If you find 26 clues and email them to us, you will receive a specially minted coin with a picture of Rachel Carson on one side.

NHM: What makes the Rachel Carson system of trails unique?

Mulshine: The Rachel Carson Trail is hard—it is extremely hard. We hold the Rachel Carson Challenge shortly after Pittsburgh has their fantastic marathon, and a number of times I’ve been out on the Challenge and have heard someone say, ‘I did the marathon so I thought I’d be in good shape for this,’ and they’re surprised at how much more difficult it is. Obviously, it’s longer but the terrain is such that you’re up and down, with very challenging hills, and you’re out there in the middle of the day in blazing heat pushing your body.

NHM: What is the main thing that you’d like people to know about the Rachel Carson Trails Conservancy?

Mulshine: That we’ve got trails that we’re encouraging people to use. We’re looking to make sure that they have the opportunity to get outside and that they have a good experience when they’re out there on the trails.

To learn more about the Rachel Carson Trails Conservancy, visit https://www.rachelcarsontrails.org.