With mountain bikes and shovels in hand, officials broke ground on a new mountain biking trail at the Quemahoning Reservoir on Friday.
A 6-mile section will be completed this year, and an additional 11 miles will be added by 2017 or 2018, according to Brad Clemenson, coordinator of Lift Johnstown.
This beginner to intermediate level 1-foot-wide trail will also have interwoven loop trails for experienced mountain bikers. The first section begins at the Quemahoning Family Recreation Area off Quemahoning Dam Road.
The project was put together by groups, including the Cambria Somerset Authority, the Laurel Highlands On & Off Road Bicycling Association and the Stonycreek-Quemahoning Initiative.
Rich Maher, vice president of the association, said the 17-mile loop around the Quemahoning Reservoir will bring in bicyclists from all over.
"If all goes well with funding and future expansion, the Que trail network will be a destination on par with the Allegrippis Trails near Raystown Lake," he said. "It's been a long time coming and it's finally going to happen."
Many officials who contributed to the project made presentations at the groundbreaking. Most touted the trail as a great economic stimulator for the area.
Renee Seifert, president of the Laurel Highlands Visitors Bureau, said tourism is vital to Somerset, Fayette and Westmoreland counties.
"As tourism grows, it provides income, employment opportunities and tax revenue to benefit your local communities as well as the state of Pennsylvania," she said.
She said travelers spend $1.8 million in the Laurel Highlands every year. Their tourism also generates $370 million in labor income, $120 million in state and local taxes and $116 million in federal taxes.
"One in three jobs in the Laurel Highlands is tourism-related," she said. "The majority of visitors travel here for what we consider world-class outdoor adventure."
Nearly $48,000 was contributed in grants from state and local sources, and more was donated in the form of volunteer planning and engineering. More funding is needed for the trail additions.
Somerset County Commissioner John Vatavuk agreed with Seifert, saying recreational opportunities attract people who wouldn't normally travel to the county.
"That's what this county really needs, is more people to come here and spend their money here," he said. "Plus, it affords our own citizens recreational opportunities."
Stonycreek-Quemahoning Initiative Chairman Howard Picking thanked the many people who put in hard work and effort to get the trail started.
"There's a lot of people doing a lot of things to make this a great place to live," he said.
The trail will be constructed this year by volunteers and Maher Contracting, of Johnstown. Clemenson estimated the project will exceed $600,000 in economic impact every year.