A Brief History of Rail 66 Country Trail
As the age of rail was ending in Northwest Pennsylvania, entrepreneurs and communities tried to keep the B&O Northern Division alive as a railroad, but it was not to be. Instead, the old B&O is finding new life as the region’s newest rail trail.
The Rail 66 Country Trail is Clarion County’s part of that trail project. When finished, it will start at a place once called Clarion Junction, west of Clarion in the village of Marianne. From there it will roughly parallel 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 Rail 66 Country Trail follows the path of the narrow-gauge Pittsburgh and Western Railroad, built in the late 1800s. That line became the standard-gauge Northern Division of the Baltimore and Ohio, and ran from Pittsburgh to Buffalo and Rochester, N.Y. For most of the 20th Century the B&O shipped coal, lumber, and freight from mines, forests and local glass factories. When these industries declined, the Knox and Kane Railroad acquired the B&O right of way.
Beginning in 1982, the Knox and Kane took tourist excursions from Marienville through Kane and Mt. Jewett to the Kinzua Bridge, one of the highest railroad bridges east of the Mississippi. After a tornado toppled a section of the Kinzua Bridge in 2003, the Knox and Kane ceased operations. The line was purchased by the Kovalchick Corporation and the rails and ties were salvaged.
Al Lander of Lucinda leased four miles of the rail bed property from Kovalchick and paved it through the Lucinda-Snydersburg area for easy hiking, jogging and bicycling. The people of the neighborhood liked the trail and soon a community group formed to support and further develop it. That group is now Rail 66 Country Trail Inc., a 501(c)(3) nonprofit.
Last year, 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.