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
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. We describe the trail starting at US322.
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, so pause and look both ways before crossing. 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 0.1 miles to the Baily trailhead on Semerad Rd. 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 2015) working on a northward extension that will eventually reach Bicentennial Park. As that extension travels northward to Bicentennial Park
About 0.5 miles from the US322 Trailhead the trail will pass under US322 and end up on the back side of the shopping plaza.
<<Plans are ready for biding to extend the trail west, two miles closer to Conneaut Lake.>>
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.
Maps, guides, other references
USGS Topographic Maps: Geneva.
Text version of 18 Apr 2016 based on personal observation while bicycling Apr 2015. Conditions will have changed; you are responsible for your own safety. Oldest segment check 4/2016.
French Creek Recreational Trails is a nonproﬁt organization whose governing boardof directors oversees the care of the Ernst Trail.
Three years ago we were able to open the two mile extension west from Krider Road Trailhead to Bailey Road Trailhead. In the past four years, we have been able to complete approximately 1,600 feet of trail east from Bean’s Auto over and around various wetlands to the banks of French Creek. With the help of a grant from the County’s Act 13 allotment and much volunteer labor we constructed three bridges. On the creek bank, we have cleared a rough walking and mountain bike trail that takes you under Smock Memorial Bridge, behind Ainsworth and all the way to Mary Gable Park - behind The Boot Box.
We are currently excavating and developing this connecting trail to Mary Gable Park. This is an important part of our plan to bring the Ernst Trail to Bicentennial Park in Meadville. With the trail now growing to approximately 7-l/2 miles long, continual maintenance increases. Additionally, this past winter, the longest of the three bridges built, received signiﬁcant damagefrom the ice jam that affected much of South Main Street in Meadville and properties along French Creek. This bridge replacement adds greatly to our need for your ﬁnancial support.
FCRT conducts a Maintenance Match Fund campaign in the memory of Tom McNally, the “Trail Blazer”. Tom was a visionary who played a major role in the development of the Ernst trail. This recreational trail, which passes from the city of Meadville through Vernon and Union Townships, draws many users locally as well as those traveling through our area, providing support to local businesses. Tom McNally gave the community a restricted trust fund underwriting the cost of annual maintenance of the trail. This fund, however, came with the challenge that we must provide annual matching funds in order to draw money to assist withtrail maintenance. The trust will match dollar for dollar every donation up to $5,000 and thus will provide an annual contribution of $10,000 to maintain the Emst Trail.
The necessity for routine maintenance, over and above what is done by volunteer labor, continues to increase which makes this fund so important to keep this community asset in good condition. Toward that end, we ask for a donation to support this fund which will be matched 100% by the McNall Trust to keep this community asset in perfect condition for generations to come. Your gifts may be sent to FCRT, Box 592, Meadville. Please mark carefully that you wish to have your contribution used for the McNally Trust Fund match. Or you may go to www.emsttrail.org and submit your donation by PayPal. FCRT is a 501 © (3) charitable organization that allows your contribution to be deductible for federal income tax purposes.