Online auction to decide who's first to use reopened Big Savage bike tunnel
Wednesday, March 15, 2006
By Bob Batz Jr., Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
When the Big Savage Tunnel opens next month, you can be the first to "officially" ride your bike through the ever-dusky, always-54-degrees, half-mile passageway in Somerset County -- literally one of the coolest links on the rail trail being completed between Pittsburgh and Washington, D.C.
The Somerset County Rails to Trails Association is accepting bids until Sunday via the Internet auction site eBay.
The winner -- and yesterday afternoon the bidding was nearing $300 -- will get to lead 11 of his or her friends through the big steel doors on the tunnel's western portal when the group opens them on the first or second Saturday or Sunday in April.
Those doors -- and the ones at the eastern portal 3,294.6 feet away -- were closed this past December to protect the newly renovated tunnel from winter weather damage.
"People have ridden through the tunnel before, during construction, but this is the official first ride," points out Paul Wiegman. He's the trail association board member and inveterate eBayer who cooked up the auction as a way to raise money to maintain the Somerset County stretch of the trail, known as the Great Allegheny Passage.
Started three decades ago and propelled by many groups, the conversion of Western Maryland Railway right of way to recreational trail finally is nearing completion. The reopening of the 1911 tunnel, abandoned by the railroad and closed for safety in 1975, means that cyclists can pedal on trail from McKeesport to six miles past Frostburg, Md.
And Mr. Wiegman said bidding opened yesterday for construction on the last missing link to the trail that runs to Washington, D.C. -- a connection that could be made by this fall.
Meanwhile, work continues to finish the trail between McKeesport and Pittsburgh, where it would tie into existing riverfront trails.
Over the years, many adventurous sorts have traversed the Big Savage Tunnel, before lights and $12 million in other improvements were completed -- and long before it was completely legal or safe to be inside.
Mr. Wiegman, who took an inspection ride this past fall, says biking through it still is "really an experience."
The tunnel was built just wide enough for trains, and is so long and graded so that you can't see daylight at one end when you start in the other. Mr. Wiegman says the sensation is unlike the familiar one of driving through Pittsburgh's tunnels.
"You're not going as fast as a car and you're not enclosed in a car," he says. "You're in this pipe and you're moving through it. It's kinda surreal" -- especially with the gold lights distantly spaced so you go from "bright spot to dusk and almost dark, back and forth."
The interior frequently is foggy, as is the weather outside, especially at the eastern side of the Eastern Continental Divide. If the sky is clear, the view from there is spectacular.
Spectators will be welcome to join in the April opening and even ride the tunnel after the auction winners make their historic passage ("We're all hoping they do come out the other end," Mr. Wiegman says with a chuckle).
More fanfare is to follow on May 27 in Meyersdale, when the Somerset group marks the extension of the trail through the county with a celebration called "the Light at the End of the Tunnel."
HISTORIC FIRST RIDE THROUGH
THE BIG SAVAGE TUNNEL
ON THE GREAT ALLEGHENY PASSAGE
SOMERSET COUNTY, PENNSYLVANIA
This item is an once in a life time opportunity.
You and eleven (11) of your selected guests will be the first cyclists to officially ride through the Big Savage Tunnel on the Great Allegheny Passage rail trail in Somerset County, southwestern Pennsylvania.
The Great Allegheny Passage began as a dream over 30 years ago when the Western Maryland Railway abandoned their tracks from Cumberland, MD to Connellsville, PA. Part of that route included the Big Savage Tunnel. This 3294.6 foot tunnel through Big Savage Mountain was built in 1911. After the last trains used the structure in 1975, the tunnel was closed for safety.
The interior and portals were completely refurbished over the past several years in order for cyclists to safely pass through the tunnel. The work was completed late in 2005 and the portals closed in December to protect the interior from winter weather. Over the winter the final construction was completed on the Great Allegheny Passage in Somerset County and it was officially transferred from the contractor to Somerset County.
In early April of 2006 the Big Savage Tunnel doors will reopen and the entire length of the Great Allegheny Passage in Somerset County will officially be open to the public.
The winner of this item will be the first cyclist to ride through the tunnel when the portals are opened. The winner will be allowed to bring up to eleven guests to join in the celebration.
Once the auction is closed, the winner will be asked to pay the winning price by way of personal or certified check to the Somerset County Rails to Trails Association (SCRTA). When the check clears the winner will be immediately contacted and provided with an exact date (a weekend day in early April, and to be decided by SCRTA) of the opening and provided with details of the arrangements for that day.
The winner is responsible for transportation to Deal, PA, Somerset County, the nearest public access to the west portal of the tunnel. From there, SCRTA volunteers will be on hand to assist the winner and guests to the tunnel entrance. Once through the tunnel the group is welcome to return to the Deal Access, or go on to Frostburg, MD. Any arrangements for shuttles will be the responsibility of the winner. This auction item covers only the ride through the Big Savage Tunnel.
ALL OF THE PROCEEDS FROM THIS AUCTION WILL GO TO THE SOMERSET COUNTY RAILS TO TRAILS ASSOCIATION AND BE USED FOR MAINTAINING THE TRAIL.
SCRTA is a registered 501c3 charity, incorporated in Pennsylvania.
The mission of SCRTA is to build the Great Allegheny Passage (formerly the Allegheny Highlands Trail) in Somerset County, build public support for the trail, and help raise funds for construction, maintenance, reconstruction, and marketing of the Great Allegheny Passage. This auction has been approved by the SCRTA board of directors, and the Somerset County Parks and Recreation Board.
The SCRTA board recognizes that there have been cyclists through the Big Savage Tunnel during the reconstruction and prior to the portal closing in December of 2005. However, those riders were on the trail prior to the official ownership of the tunnel by Somerset County and thus were what we deem to be “unofficial” riders. The accompanying photograph is of the west (northwest) portal of the Big Savage Tunnel on the day of an inspection by the SCRTA board members and prior to the tunnel being officially open to public use.
The facility is now owned by Somerset County, and thus the winner of this auction, and guests, will be the first “official” rider(s) through the Big Savage Tunnel.
On Mar-11-06 at 19:06:23 PST, seller added the following information:
The winner bidder will be contacted by email immediately after the end of the auction. A specific date will be provided at that time. The time of day can vary. Then the payment process will begin.
Sorry for the confusing wording in the description above.
The winning "official" ride will be scheduled for a Saturday or Sunday in EARLY April. This will be one of the first 2 weekends in April, no later.
Because of a variety of weather related factors, assembling the volunteers to physically open the huge metal portal doors and we are not able to give an exact date in the description. Thanks for your understanding.
However, the tunnel must be open in order to give the public access to the Great Allegheny Passage as soon as possible once weather damage to the structure is past.