The Butler Freeport Community Trail takes cyclists on a journey for 20 miles along the sweeping curves and twisting turns of Western Pennsylvania Railroad’s (Conrail) former Butler Branch rail line. The southern Trailhead is located along Main Street in Laneville, just west of Freeport, PA in the Allegheny River valley. From there the route travels through the scenic, Buffalo Creek and Little Buffalo Creek stream valleys passing through the charming towns of Monroe, Sarver, Marwood, Great Belt and Herman before crossing Connoquenessing Creek over an old railroad bridge to the Butler-Freeport Community Trail’s current northern Trailhead near Father Marinaro Park in Butler PA.
Trail Highlights: Cycling along the Butler-Freeport Community Trail is perfect for those who like changes in scenery. Along the way, trail trekkers (hikers, bicyclists, mountain bikers, horseback riders and cross country skiers) travel along rushing streams through deep shaded valleys, an Audubon designated important bird area, past tranquil farmland and charming rural towns. Remnants of the rail era, nineteenth and early twentieth century industry including mile markers, building foundations, small dams and brick kilns are visible along the trail.
Currently, about 16.5 miles of the trail are improved and surfaced with compacted, crushed limestone. The smooth surface is suitable for use by any bikes, even road bikes! The last 4 miles of the trail to Butler are unimproved but open. While this section of the Butler Freeport Trail is currently undergoing renovation, a mountain bike or hybrid bicycle is recommended to handle the rough and muddy sections.
The surrounding countryside is typically rolling, but the Butler-Freeport Trail is easy to ride. Long, straight, fairly level stretches are broken up by sweeping curves, turns and gentle grades as the trail follows the contours of the creeks. If you begin your bike ride in the south, there is a noticeable uphill grade of 2-3% as you cycle north. However, it's a joyful downhill cycling on the return trip. Benches and/or picnic tables are located at strategic points along the trail. Restroom facilities are available seasonally from May to October.
Laneville to Monroe: Miles 1 – 4
Before or after your ride, check out the historic Valley Mill Gristmill, located just one block from the Lanesville Trailhead.
The first 4 miles of the Butler-Freeport Trail traces Buffalo Creek, which cuts a deep, V-shaped gorge with steep, rugged hardwood and hemlock-covered slopes. Right out of Lanesville, the rail trail is paved for the first three miles. For a short stretch, the path follows a service road for the Buffalo Creek Waste Water Treatment Plant, located along Buffalo Creek beneath the State Route 28 Bridge. Shortly, after passing under the bridge, the trail meets up with Little Buffalo Creek at Winfield Junction and crosses over to the north bank.
Monroe to Sarver: Miles 4 – 7
Flanked by cliffs on one side and woods on the other, the trail passes beneath a lush canopy of trees and crosses the effervescent Little Buffalo Creek several times along the way. Due to this fact, in the early spring or after heavy rains, it can be wet and muddy in places.
The extensive tracts of hemlock, moist deciduous forest, large stands of American Sycamore along the route provide some of the best bird habitat and scenery in the region. The Audubon Society established the Todd Nature Reserve here (its first) and declared this area a designated Important Bird Area. A colorful array of wildflowers and birds can be spotted here including the Yellow-throated Vireo, Purple Finch, Scarlet Tanager, Indigo Bunting, the rare Cerulean Warbler as well as herons and kingfishers. As you continue to bike north the valley gradually becomes broader, it’s slopes more moderate.
Sarver to Cabot: Miles 7 - 10
This section of the Butler-Freeport Community Trail leads through a more open wooded landscape and crosses no less than five trail bridges. The afternoon sun pierces empty windows, casting shadows on crumbling stone walls and building foundations, remnants of industries and residences of families which served and depended on the railroad. Although the surrounding forest has reclaimed the land with a beauty all it’s own, you can still get a blast of the past at various points as you bicycle along this pretty stretch of the Butler Freeport Trail.
Your first encounter will be a stone wall just south of the Cabot trailhead on the right side of trail. This marks the location of the once thriving Franklin Glass Sand Plant. Further along are the sites of the Little Buffalo Creek Sand Plant, which later became the Ford Glass Quarry, and the Lampus Coal Company. All of these industries quarried material (stone, sandstone, limestone and coal) from the hillsides surrounding the trail. Two concrete dams at the Ford site, used to wash sand at the plants, are visible in the Creek.
Cabot to (Jones Road) Herman: Miles 10 - 14
This quiet 4-mile bicycle sojourn belies the fact that this was once the busiest sections of track along the rail line. Not much was happening until German immigrants arrived after 1835 and found the northern Buffalo Creek valley perfect for farming. They turned the forested wilderness into productive pastures and farmland. As you continue your mountain bike ride, you’ll cycle past tranquil fields, vineyards and poultry farms, sections of woodland, small villages, and wetland areas.
Later, oil was discovered in the hills. The town of Cabot, originally called “Carbon Black” or “Saxon Station”, is named after the industrialist, Godfrey L. Cabot of Boston, MA who purchased a facility in 1930 that used natural gas to produce carbon black, a substance used largely in the manufacture of automobile tires amongst other things. He went on to establish the company that became the largest producer of Carbon Black in the world.
The bustling Saxon Station, established in 1871 along with the Butler Branch of the railroad, was located just north of Winfield Road. It served the booming "carbon black" industry in and around the area. North of Cabot, the Saxon City Hotel, also built in 1871, is still operational and is one of the oldest hotels in western Pennsylvania.
About one mile north of Cabot, you’ll pass the Freehling Lumber and Hardware in Marwood. Today, while there is no sign of the post office and rail station that used to stand at this site, rail ties and cement foundations remind you of a bygone era. From here, the valley opens up and the rail trail becomes narrower. Before crossing Herman Road, you’ll ride through the Serene Valley Golf Course. While motorized vehicles (except for maintenace vehicles) and golf carts are prohibited on the trail be on the lookout.
Herman to Butler: Last 4.5 miles
“The few buildings at this place (Herman Station) have been built since the railroad began running. There is now at Herman, a store, a hotel, a post office, a blacksmith shop and a shoemaker's shop. Five producing oil wells are situated near the station.” -- The History of Butler County 1883.
Today, the general store, post office, and ticket station are still standing. The current owners of the store have put up interpretive signs about it's history.
After Herman, the last 4 miles of the rail trail is a work in progress but open and more suitable for mountain bikes or hybrid bicycles. The city of Butler, PA lies within the rolling hills of the Appalachian Plateau country. Throughout most of its history, the city of Butler has been a major manufacturing and industrial center. In 1902, the Standard Steel Car Company opened one of its largest railcar manufacturing facilities in Butler. It was here that some of the first all steel rail cars were built.
As you continue to pedal north, the valley dips deeper as Coal Run and Herman Road flank the trail for the last stretch on the west. For the last couple of miles you’ll cycle past the hardware of the modern industrial world including a rifle range, warehouses and factories. The trail currently ends near the north bank of Connoquenessing Creek.
The Butler Freeport Trail Council has been working for over 20 years towards the dream of a continuous 21 mile recreational trail connecting the cities of Freeport and Butler. Four of the last 4.5 miles are projected to be complete late Spring 2011. When fully complete, the Butler-Freeport Community Trail will cross over the Connoquenessing Creek via the planned Fellowship Crossing Bridge and the trail will extend to Father Mandarino Park in Butler, PA.
Nearby Points of Interest
Mickey’s Mill / Valley Mill / Lanesville Gristmill : www.mickeysmill.com
From the Lanesville Trailhead, turn left and bike one block to the white Valley Mills building situated along Buffalo Creek. A grist mill has occupied this site on Buffalo Creek, in what is now Laneville, for over one hundred eighty years. The Freeport Area Historical Society is working to renovate the historic mill. Once completed, it will serve as a museum and educational center featuring working mill equipment. The Mill is currently available for tours by appointment only.
Todd Nature Reserve : www.aswp.org
While in the area take the time to visit the Todd Nature Reserve. The 176 acre sanctuary is located in the Buffalo Creek drainage of Sarver, PA, just 4 miles from route 28. It is the Audubon’s Society’s first Reserve and is part of the Buffalo Creek Valley Important Bird Area, one of only 80 designated areas in the state. Five miles of rustic trails (hiking) wind through a varied habitat of forest, meadows, along streams and a pond. The Todd Sanctuary is closed during deer hunting season.
Cooper Cabin Pioneer Homestead : www.butlerhistory.com
The cabin, an original family homestead was built in 1810. Today, it is managed as a "museum" by the Butler County Historical Society. Learn about the life of early settlers. The grounds include a spinning house, a springhouse and a herb garden. The cabin is open to the public for tours on selected Sundays from May to August.
The Butler Branch Railroad opened to the public with great celebration on January 18, 1871. Operated by the Western Pennsylvania Railroad Company, it allowed for the development of the steel industry using the line to haul iron ore. Other local products shipped included farm produce, sand from mines, oil from nearby wells and bricks. Service ended by 1987.
From Pittsburgh take Rt.28 north to Exit 17 (Rt.356) at Freeport. Turn right onto Rt.356 North. Main parking areas at the following trailheads:
For the southern trailhead at Laneville follow directions from Pittsburgh. Turn south on Rt.356 at Exit 17. Go 2 miles, exit left Rt.128. Exit Laneville before bridge, and turn right and park at trailhead under Rt.128 Bridge.
At 3 miles turn right onto Sarver Rd. Go 1 mile to the parking lot past the Buffalo Township Volunteer Fire Station on left.
At 6 miles turn right onto Cabot Rd. Go 1 mile to trailhead parking on the right.
At 7 miles turn right onto Marwood Rd. Go 1 mile to trailhead parking on the left past Freehling Lumber.
From Freeport, head onto PA-356 N/Butler Road and continue for about 12.6 miles and turn right onto Simon Dr. Make another right onto Herman Rd. and then take the second left onto Brinker Road. There are now large parking areas on the north and south sides of Brinker Road.
For other long distance multi-use rail trails in this region see Pennsylvania Rail Trails
Butler-Freeport Community Trail Council
Website: Butler Freeport Trail Council