Along French Ck from Meadville to Watson Run in Crawford County
The Ernst Trail offers relative isolation at the edge of Meadville. Following the path of the former Meadville branch of the Bessemer & Lake Erie RR, it runs south for 2 miles on the edge of the French Ck flood plain, then swings west to follow a small tributary. The trail starts near the Park Avenue Plaza on US322 and continue to near US19 by Watson Run.
Location Meadville to Watson Run in Union Township, Crawford County
Trailheads Mercer Pike
Length, Surface 4.7 miles paved, <<XX.X miles Gravel>>
Character Uncrowded, rural, shady, level
Usage restrictions No motor vehicles
Amenities Rest room
Driving time from Pittsburgh 1 hours 45 minutes north
The mail posts on the trail count both ways. One side of the post has miles from US322 the other side has miles from Kidner Road and Bailey Rd. We describe the trail starting at US322.
At 150 ft from the trailhead, a side thrail goes left to Park Plaza and continues to Mary Gable Park at Spippen St. This side trail is currntly (2020) gravel and the triail group hopes to place a linestone surface on it in the nea future.
The first 0.75 miles are in mixed woods and ex farm lands with I79 close by. At 1.5 miles French Creek appears on the left and the trail is on a bench in the hillside. French Ck is one of the most biologically diverse waterways in Pennsylvania, supporting 66 species of fish and 27 species of mollusk. Around mile 2.0 the terrain levels and the trail moves away from the creek. At mile 2.2 the trail runs briefly alongside an active Conrail track - the former Erie RR main line. It then enters the woods, crossing Mercer Pike with the intermediate trail head. Shortly thereafter I79 is heard again, as the trail passes under the highway at mile 3.4. Note the Kenndy Hill Rd, just after the I79 bridges, carries high speed traffic.
Between mile 3.9 and 4.1 there is an evergreen plantation on the left. If you look closely you can see that the trees are planted in neat rows, a fixed distance apart. At mile <<x.x>> there is a side trail that goes <<x.x miles to the Baily trailhead>> on Semerad Rd. This side trail is currntly (2020) gravel and the triail group hopes to surface it someday. At mile <<x.xx>>, just before crossing a small stream the trail turns right, to run parallel to Kidner Rd for about 0.5 miles. Here there are houses on the left and old pasture in the right. Going straight on the old railroad grade ends at a 50 feet embankment of US19. There used to be a road bridge here, but it has been replaced with fill.
For a relatively short and with only a few houses in the area, there is a surprising amount of traffic. We saw over 25 cars in the parking lots on a Wednesday afternoon.
The volunteers are working to reach downtown Meadville and are actively (Spring 2020) working on a northward extension that will eventually reach Bicentennial Park.
There is also an effort to extend thetrail westward to Conneaut Lake. Ther has been some clearingand grubbing onthe route starting at Conneaut Lake and heading east.
Vicinity: Directions begin at the junction of I79 and US322. To reach this point from Pittsburgh, go north on I79 and take the US322 exit towards Meadville.
US322/ Beans trailhead: At the intersection of I79 and US322 take the 147A exit east and go east on US322 for about 0.7 miles. Shortly after the Home Depot store the trailhead parking is on the right just before the Plaza Bowling Lanes
Mercer Pike trailhead: From the intersection of I79 and US322, take the 147A exit east and go east on US322 for about 0.5 miles. At the Sheetz gas station, turn right (south) on Kennedy Hill Rd. In 0.9 mile, just after you pass the Crawford County Humane Society shelter, turn left on Mercer Pike. Follow Mercer Pike for 2.1 miles to the parking area on the right just before the railroad crossing at the bottom of the hill.
Kidner Road trailhead: At the intersection of I79 and US322 take the 147B exit east and go east on US322 for about 0.5 miles. At the light turn south/right on Mercer Pike and go 0.3 miles. Turn right/west on Krider road and go 0.3 miles. At the fork bear right to stay on Krider Rd and go 1.4 miles. Trailhead parking will be on the left.
Baily trailhead: This has a short un paved section, might as well use the Kidner trailhead which is nearby.
Rest rooms, water: Chemical toilet at trailheads
Bike shop, rentals: In Meadville
Restaurant, groceries: On US322
Camping, simple lodging: Motels on US322
Swimming, fishing: None
Winter sports: Cross-country skiing
Wheelchair access: Okay
French Creek Recreational Trails, Inc.
PO Box 592
Meadville PA 16335
Maps, guides, other references
USGS Topographic Maps: Geneva.
Text version of 20 Oct 2020 based on personal observation while bicycling US322 to Kinder Rd. 4/2015, US322 to Shippen St 10/2020, Bailey Trailhead MP7 to Johnsson TrailheadMP6.3, Johnson Trailhead to main stem not bikkedConditions will have changed; you are responsible for your own safety. Oldest segment check 1/1990.