When you think of Johnstown’s tourist attractions, hiking and biking might not come to mind as much as the obvious sites – Stone Bridge, Heritage Discovery Center, Johnstown Flood Museum and, of course, Johnstown’s Inclined Plane.

How can you not think of the Inclined Plane? It’s the most visible attraction in the city and it’s right downtown.

Today, you can add another attraction to that list, and it’s literally right next to the plane on Yoder Hill. I’m talking about the Inclined Plane Hiking and Biking Trails.

While the trails have been receiving an increasing amount of attention in recent years, they have a history that dates back several decades.

The trails were initially built in the late ‘70s and utilized an old rail bed and a road that led to Blair Street in Westmont. New trail construction linked the two sections together and tied them to the upper Inclined Plane Station.

In 1989, they were in the limelight again as several sculptures by world-renowned artist James Wolfe were placed along the trail to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the 1889 Johnstown Flood. However, the years following saw the trails fall into a state of disrepair – fallen trees frequently blocked the paths and there were several landslides on the hillside.

I started spending my lunch break going for runs up the trails and noticing that, when a tree fell, no one removed it.

Then a friend and mountain biking enthusiast, Dave Rasmussen, asked why no one ever opened the hillside up to biking.

This was something that I wanted to see happen for a long time and I had to be part of the effort,” Rasmussen says.

It was his opinion that world-class downhill trails could easily be built on the hillside.

Around this time, Vision Together 2025 was being formed.

Rasmussen and I saw the program as the perfect mechanism to establish a trail system and we launched the Inclined Plane Trails Project Capture Team – also referred to as the Bikes and Trails Capture Team.

Under Vision Together 2025, we developed a project proposal and presented it to the city.

The proposal stated that the capture team would care for the existing trails as long as we could build a few new mountain-biking-only trails.

The city approved the proposal and work began in the fall of 2017.

Since the start of the project, the team has constructed eight new trails, utilizing micro grants through Vision Together 2025 to purchase tools and supplies. Labor has been provided by several volunteer groups in the community.

I found out about the trail project from Facebook,” Don Forster says. “I was curious what type of trails could be built on the hillside, so I decided to volunteer for a day and see what it was all about.

After seeing what was being done on the hill and meeting some of the people who showed up, I liked the community aspect of it. I made a few friends along the way and found that I enjoyed being there, working on the trails.”

Forster was one of many who volunteered their time and talents to the project.

The amount of community buy-in has been unbelievable. We’ve had volunteers from all walks of life help out.

Greater Johnstown High School graduate and Eagle Scout Chris Cashaw designed and built a water remediation project for us. We had service fraternities from Pitt-Johnstown help dig trails; a local business gave employees a half day off to come out and volunteer. The probation office helped clear a clogged drainage pipe. We also had local businesses donate chainsaws, drainage pipes and other supplies.

I really think that folks see the value that a project like this can bring to the area,” Rasmussen says.

I feel that there are more organized grassroots efforts, like the Inclined Plane Trails, because there are so many more volunteers who see the same vision. Additionally, all of these groups support each other, which has helped build a recreational community.”

In the spring of 2019, the team suffered a major setback. Over the previous winter, we completed a new trail that we named J-Line. Before we had a chance to debut the trail, a tornado hit the hillside.

It touched down at the top of J-line and ripped straight down the new trail, dropping more than 20 trees.

It was devastating. When we hiked in to survey the damage, I just wanted to quit.

All of that hard work was wiped out in one afternoon.

But the community came to the rescue. More than 25 volunteers came out for several days straight, cutting the trees out and rebuilding the trail. Two weeks later, J-Line saw its first mountain bike tires.

Through nothing but social media and word of mouth, the popularity of the trails began exploding.

On any given weekend, riders came to Johnstown from Pittsburgh, Harrisburg, State College and all areas in between. In one weekend, the Inclined Plane sold 300 trips up the tracks because a bike shop in the Pittsburgh area organized a huge group ride on the trails.

It’s fun to find out where people you meet on the trails are from and how they found out about the trails,” Forster says.

Word-of-mouth is huge in the biking and outdoor communities. If people like what you’re doing or building, they will tell their friends and anyone else who will listen.”

Although currently unavailable due to construction on the Inclined Plane, one of the more unique aspects of the trail system is that riders get the ski resort/bike park experience without having to pay the cost of a lift pass.

A ride to the top of the Inclined Plane is only $3, and CamTran has generously created a $15 day pass for riders so they can ride as many times as time allows. It’s the only trail system in the country that is serviced by public transportation, so by buying a pass, riders are helping to forge a private/public partnership.

We had some discussions about how underutilized this hillside was and the opportunity to leverage the Inclined Plane for a lift to the top,” Rasmussen says. “We had been to many lift access bike parks over the years and wanted something like that close to home.”

During renovations, riders have to set their own shuttle, or peddle back up to the top, either via Millcreek Road or through Brownstown.

This summer, trail crews plan to widen existing trails, create a new bi-directional trail on the 10 acres bordering Millcreek Road and a new trail from Coconut Place to the lower station as part of the 9/11 Memorial Trail system.

Volunteers also will work on tying the Inclined Plane Trails into trails at Stackhouse Park and a new loop around Hinkston Dam via the Honan Avenue trail. The creation of a riverside park and an ADA accessible ramp also will be completed at the lower Inclined Plane Station.

We are so proud of the work our Bikes and Trails Capture Team has done and continues to do,” Mike Tedesco, Vision Together 2025’s president and CEO, says.

“They are a fantastic example of how big of an impact a few people can have on their community when they believe in their idea and bring it to life.”

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