Streaking west through Pennsylvania on an I-70 road trip crosses the Great Allegheny Passage, a 150-mile length of rail-trail. Often called by its acronym, the GAP, starts in Pittsburgh and is built on a smattering of connected, defunct railbeds – many that follow the Youghiogheny River as it winds its way toward Maryland. The GAP ends at Cumberland Maryland where it meets the Chesapeake & Ohio (C&O) Canal Towpath, 184.5 miles of dirt path following the Potomac River to downtown Washington, DC.
I’ve had my eye on the Great Allegheny Passage for some time as a route for a multi-day bicycle adventure. Together, the GAP and the C&O Towpath give 335 miles of biking or hiking through mostly rural landscapes with twenty or so small breweries along the way. Riverscapes, historical sites, tunnels, and trestles are scattered along the way. For me, this was a chance to sample and scout a bit of the GAP with an eye toward spending more time in the region in the future.
My scouting visit to the Great Allegheny Passage was based at the small town of West Newton Pennsylvania where I stayed at a bed and breakfast place located right along the trail. There is a former train station there that houses a visitor center and a node of the Allegheny Trail Alliance (ATA), the organization that coordinates and promotes the GAP. Their website is an excellent resource for information about the GAP’s history, route, accommodations, and shuttle services.
West Newton struck me as a sleepy place that had seen better days, but does have some visual interest to the photographer’s eye and there is a small, family-owned brewery to visit. Bloom Brew is located in an old industrial building on the banks of the Youghiogheny River. They operate a 2 BBL brewery that yields a surprisingly large number of beers on tap. When I was there, they were doing a brisk business in growler fills as well as selling a few pints. Check ahead on opening times and food availability (they collaborate with food trucks at popular times.
I had time for an afternoon excursion northbound and a morning excursion southbound. Some of the pathway was paved, some graveled, and some dirt. A lot passed through parklike, tree-lined stretches with glimpses of the river through the trees while other stretches passed through small, residential patches. I crossed the river once – at Smithton. Along the trail, there was a marker pointing toward Smithton that said “Jones Brewery”. That sounded like my kind of place, so I took the detour. Jones Brewery ended up being the husk of a historic brewery that was once operated by the Grandparents of the actress Shirley Jones who grew up here. There is a related current day brewery called Stoney’s Brewing Company in nearby Charleroi. For history buffs, they have a nice rundown on the story of Stoney Jones and the Jones Brewery on their website.
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