The Ghost Town Trail runs along Blacklick Ck and its South Branch from Saylor Park through Dilltown, Vintondale, and Nanty Glo to Ebensburg, with the Rexis Spur and Stritty’s Way looping from Vintondale up North Branch Blacklick Ck, to US422, and back to near Nanty Glo. The trail follows the route of the 1903 Ebensburg and Black Lick RR for 32 miles from Saylor Park to Ebensburg. The section from Saylor Park to Nanty Glo is part of the IHTC Pittsburgh to Harrisburg Corridor and the trail is one of the trails of the Trans Allegheny Trails System (page NE-166).
Ghost Town Trail
Location Along Blacklick Ck from Saylor Park (Black Lick) to Ebensburg.
From Vintondale to near Nanty Glo in Indiana County and Cambria County
Length, Surface Ghost Town 32.1 miles crushed limestone
Rexis Spur 4.2 miles total (4.0 crushed limestone. 0.2 on road)
Stritty’s Way 8.9 total (7.0 crushed limestone, 1.9 gravel)
Character Uncrowded, wooded, shady, flat (2–3 % grade Vintondale to Nanty Glo)
Usage restrictions No horses, no motorized vehicles, no snowmobiles
Amenities Rest rooms, food, camping, lodging
Driving time from Pittsburgh 1 hour to 1 hour 30 minutes east
A 10-foot crushed limestone trail traverses the heritage of the Blacklick Ck valley, which includes railroads, mining, iron making, and lumbering. Much of the trail is in State Game Lands, so wildlife and wildflowers are abundant. Benches and picnic tables provide resting places. The trail is named for the ghost towns, once-thriving mining towns along the railroad that were all abandoned by the 1930s. These former coal towns include Claghorn, Dias, Scott Glen, Amerford, Buffington, Wehrum (Lackawanna #3), and Bracken (Weber). Beula, an earlier Welsh settlement, was established in 1792, but it withered in the very early 1800s when Ebensburg became the county seat. Two 19th-century iron furnaces, Buena Vista Furnace (MP9.4) and the Eliza Furnace in Vintondale (MP18.6), still remain.
Several original railroad mileposts remain; they’re about a tenth of a mile east of the trail mileposts. The official trail markers have two numbers on them. The east-to-west set starts at Ebensburg, and the west-to-east set starts at Saylor Park. This description of the trail uses the west-to-east values. Subtract these from 32 to get the east-to-west mile values.
From Saylor Park (MP0) to Dilltown (MP12.6) the trail runs mostly through scenic woodland, with a steep hill or a rock face on one side and the river or floodplain on the other. All along this section the whitewater rapids of Blacklick Ck are visible. Occasional unreclaimed coal tailings provide reminders of the industry that created the towns and then turned them into ghost towns.
In Saylor Park, the trail starts at the far end of the parking lot from the road, where the trail turns left/south just past the basketball courts and goes 300 yards to a “T”. To the left/east is the start of the Ghost Town Trail, and to the right/west is the Hoodlebug Trail Extension that goes towards Blairsville (page NE-187).
Just east of the park, a few abandoned rail cars are rusting by the side of the trail. From Saylor Park to Heshbon (MP6.2) is one long gradual upgrade. At MP7.8 a bridge crosses the creek to the abandoned town of Claghorn. The town was built in 1903, abandoned in 1904, and reinhabited in 1916, principally by miners. When the mines closed down it became rental housing until WWII, when it was demolished for materials.
The Buena Vista Furnace (MP9.4) is not as well preserved as the one at Vintondale, but still worth a visit. One corner has fallen down and a little of the inside is visible. The side trail to the furnace is obvious, and the furnace sits in a nice meadow. PA56 passes overhead at MP9.6 with no access to the trail. At MP11.5 the trail enters a deep cut with cool temperatures, and at the end of this cut it crosses the river. At the end of a small cut (MP11.8) one of the original metal mile markers is rusting by the side of the trail. A second crossing of the creek at MP12.0 completes the cut-off of a loop of the river. The outskirts of Dilltown appear at MP12.5 with the trailhead pavilion at MP12.6.
For the first few miles east of Dilltown, the trail runs through farm country, crossing Mardis Run in Dilltown, the Blacklick Valley Natural Area, Clarke Run (MP14.3), and Dobson Run (MP14.7) before joining Blacklick Ck at Wheatfield (MP15). A historical marker at Wheatfield describes the iron furnace that once operated near here. From Wheatfield through Wehrum to Rexis, the trail lies between a cliff and the river. Wehrum (MP16.2) is one of the namesake ghost towns. Its location is just after the SR2013 road crossing, but there is scant trace of the town; the site is private and closed to the public. Just a tenth of a mile to the east, the remains of a riverside structure, the race for a coal-washing plant, is visible. Between Wehrum and Rexis a large mine gob pile adjoins the trail (MP16.7). It reflects the history of the region but from late fall to early spring, when there are no leaves on the trees, it detracts somewhat from the scenic value of the trail. The gob pile at MP17.7 to MP18.2 has been reclaimed and is now just a grassy meadow. Other piles are gradually disappearing as brush and trees grow up around them. Laurel Run #2 (MP17.6) crosses just before another large gob pile. The location of the ghost town Lackawanna #3 is also in this area.
The trail forks at Rexis (MP18.4), with the main trail going right/east across a bridge to the Eliza Furnace at the edge of Vintondale (MP18.6); the left fork is the spur trail up the North Branch. On the main trail, the well-preserved Eliza Furnace (a National Register Site, operating 1846–49) is located on the Cambria/Indiana county line. The furnace was constructed of dry-fitted stone, 32 feet high, 32 feet wide, and 31 feet deep. It is one of the best-preserved iron furnaces in the region. The furnace still boasts its original heat exchange pipes and sits in a well-tended grassy meadow ready for a picture or a picnic. A grant from the Southwestern Pennsylvania Heritage Preservation Commission supports preservation and historical exhibits here. Three interpretive signs explain the furnace and what was happening here back in the 1800s. An archaeological site survey identified traces of some of the associated buildings; development of the Eliza Furnace Historic Site identifies and interprets some of these.
In the creek just west of the furnace, water bubbles up from the creek bed. This comes from a set of boreholes drilled to lower the water level in the mine and relieve basement flooding in some homes in Vintondale. The whitish color is an aluminum precipitate. There are plans to construct a mine water treatment plant in the area, which will eliminate the bore holes and clean up Blacklick Ck.
Just east of the furnace (MP18.7) is a restroom building. The trail continues alongside a grassy area and the road with houses of Vintondale on the opposite side of the road. At the end of the grassy area (MP18.8) is a small historical display that contains a mine car and old jail cell. From there the trail swings left along a bench cut into the hillside for 100 feet, then enters a large flat area which used to contain the mine processing plant and offices, but all that remain is a loading slab on which an art project has placed a mosaic map of the area (MP19.1). Around the mosaic are black tiles with pictures of the mine building and town etched into them. Opposite the slab one can see the sealed-up mine mouth. A black slab in the mouth has the ghosts of miners emerging from the mine. A memorial to miners killed is alongside the mine mouth. A little farther along, a sequence of ponds is visible. As water passes through this sequence, it is gradually purified. The ponds also served as part of a community art project.
The trail continues across South Branch Blacklick Ck (MP19.6) and alongside yet another gob pile (MP19.7–19.8). The trail then passes a cattail field and cranberry bog (MP19.9) as it enters State Game Lands #79 and enters the most scenic section of the trail. The trail begins to climb noticeably, with a gradient here of 1.6%. A beaver pond is visible on the left (MP20). The trail passes the location of the ghost town of Bracken (MP20.7). This area has reportedly been haunted by the “Lady in White” since she was killed by her lover in the early part of the century.
After Bracken, the trail climbs steadily along the creek until the creek swings away from the trail, where a railroad siding once served a strip mine (MP22.0). Here the trail goes through an impressive cut with a coal seam undercutting the rocks on top (MP22.1). The trail crosses the creek again on a bridge dated 1916 (MP22.2) before arriving at the road just south of Twin Rocks (MP23.3). Here the trail leaves the woods and passes between homes and the river for the last two miles to Nanty Glo. The Welsh spelling is Nant-y-Glo, meaning “streams of coal”. On the return trip, it is possible to coast from the 1916 bridge (MP22.2) almost all the way to the cattail field (MP19.8).
The Nanty Glo trailhead (MP24.25) is in a large parking lot behind the fire station. There is a pavilion with vending machines at the back of the fire station. The trail exits the parking lot on the side of the fire station farthest from the creek and crosses busy Chestnut St (PA271) near a couple of restaurants. It then runs between McCoy and 1st St past the ballfield (with rest room complex) and a residential area. At MP24.75 it enters the woods and leaves civilization behind for the uninterrupted 6-mile run through Pennsylvania woods to Ebensburg.
At MP25 a wetland on the left was apparently created by the railroad embankment that is now the trail. At MP25.8 the trail crosses the South Branch of Blacklick Ck and the gradient increases. For the next five miles, the trail climbs at a steady rate of about 1%. The former town of Beula is indicated by an interpretive sign near the bridge over Beulah Rd at MP28.7 Another former town, Revloc, still has an industrial building well off the trail at MP29.7. The climb continues under the US219 bridges at MP30.1 and tapers off at the edge of Revloc, where the trail goes under W High St just after MP31.
The Ebensburg trailhead is at the community center, and restrooms are available here. Just past the community center, the trail follows bike lanes along Prave St for about 300 feet. At Cherry St the trail leaves the street and continues through a residential neighborhood to its end at Rowena Dr (MP32.1).
The spur that takes off at Rexis (MP18.4) follows the route of the Cambria and Indiana RR for about 4 miles to US422, near White Mill Station. Much of the route runs through State Game Lands #79. Mileposts on the Rexis Spur start in the parking lot for the spur. A few ruins are visible along the trail. The most notable, at MP2.3, is a stone building with a railroad platform that was a stone quarry weighing station. The bridge near Red Mill Station (MP2.4) was destroyed in the 1977 flood. A new trail bridge was constructed, and the trail continues to US422 (MP4.1).
The trail passes under the US422 bridge with the creek. The trail is on a concrete bench beside the creek; it may be underwater if the creek is up. The concrete slabs under the bridge have been repaired and are no longer canted and uneven. The smooth trail ends just after passing under the bridge and continues on a rough dirt path for 75 feet to Vic Miller road. Follow the road to the left for 0.2 miles to the Stritty’s Way Trailhead.
The completed trail (Stritty’s Way) takes off to the right/southeast from Vic Miller Rd on crushed limestone and continues for about 8 miles to near Nanty Glo. This trail starts out following Elk Ck for about 2.5 miles. Then it follows the contour of the land, going around hills, without major cuts or steep banks. As a result, there is a long slow climb to midpoint of the trail and a long slow descent down the other side. At MP6.4 the trail continues to climb, while a spur to the left continues along the creek on an old railroad grade that has been beaten down by ATVs. At MP9.7 the trail climbs over top of US422 and begins its long slow descent all the way to MP12.2, the current (2018) end of the trail. Here the route transitions to roads for 2.3 miles of rolling hills to Nanty Glo, where it rejoins the Ghost Town Trail.
Local history, attractions
The trail corridor is rich in history of the mining, iron, and lumbering industries of the valley. Eight ghost towns lie along the trail:
- Claghorn was a coal town created in the early 1900s. Population at its peak was over 400,000, mostly miners. The mine closed in 1924, but the town lived until after World War II, when it was sold for salvage.
- Dias was a small coal patch that supported the mine Virginia #15, which operated from 1919 to 1932
- Scott Glen and Amerford were early mining communities west of Dilltown.
- Buffington is a coal patch town built by the steel company in 1900 and is still alive today.
- Wehrum (Lackawanna #4) formerly provided 230 homes, a store, bank, and other services for the Lackawanna Coal and Coke Company. The town was abandoned in the 1930s, and one house remains of the 250 that once stood here. It was located where SR3013 crosses Blacklick Ck; the name still appears on some maps. It’s private property now.
- Lackawanna #3 was a short-lived “coal patch” town in the area known as Edward’s Flats between Wehrum and Rexis.
- Bracken was a small community between Vintondale and Twin Rocks operated by the Commercial Coal Company.
- Buela was an early Welsh settlement that hoped to be the county seat but lost out to Ebensburg.
Eliza Furnace operated from 1846 to 1849. At its peak, over 90 people and 45 mules produced about 1080 tons of iron a year. Producing one ton of pig iron required about 2–3 tons of iron ore, 1–1.5 tons of charcoal, and 2.5 tons of crushed limestone. One day’s charcoal supply for the furnace required the wood from about one acre of forest. This is one of the best-preserved hot blast furnaces in the state and one of the few anywhere with its hot blast coils (the radiator-shaped metal structure on top) intact. It was never profitable. It was doomed by the poor quality of the local iron ore and the cost of transporting the iron overland to the railroad at Nineveh and Johnstown, coupled with external forces such as lowered tariffs on imported iron and discovery of the higher-quality Mesabi Range in Minnesota. An interpretive sign near the furnace provides more information. Interpretive markers are at each of the furnaces.
The Buena Vista furnace was built in 1847 about the same time as the Eliza Furnace. It operated for fewer than 10 years, longer than the Eliza Furnace, but it too failed to thrive.
Another iron furnace was located near Wheatfield, but no traces remain. A historical marker at the Wheatfield intersection describes the furnace. The furnaces in the valley were charcoal fired, so charcoal hearths also dotted the valley. These furnaces were built on speculation that the mainline of the Pennsylvania RR would be routed through the Blacklick Valley. When the route selected went through the Conemaugh Valley instead, this ended speculation in local iron-making.
The railroads that preceded this trail and the coal mines that they served came nearly half a century after Eliza Furnace ceased operation. Vintondale itself was established in 1894 as a coal company town.
Judy and Joseph Kovalchick have contributed land for two rail-trails in western PA, this one and the Roaring Run Trail. They own the Kovalchick Corporations and learned about the rails-to-trails movement in 1989 when Roaring Run Watershed approached them about donating a 4-mile corridor in Apollo. In 1984, they had acquired the route along Blacklick Ck for salvage. In September 1991 they deeded a 15.5-mile corridor, formerly the Ebensburg & Black Lick RR, along Blacklick Ck to Indiana County and the Northern Cambria Community Development Corporation (NORCAM). The trail was developed by Indiana County Parks and Trails and NORCAM, with help from local citizens of the Cambria & Indiana Trail Council and grants from America’s Industrial Heritage Project and ISTEA. The Cambria County portion of the trail is now managed by the Cambria County Conservation and Recreation Authority. The Cambria and Indiana RR donated the Rexis spur, formerly the Blacklick & Yellow Creek RR.
For a more complete history about Blacklick Valley, the trails, and the surrounding towns see the flip book The Insider’s Guide to the Indiana County Parks.
Extensions of the Ride
The next segment to the west along the IHTC Pittsburgh to Harrisburg Corridor is a seamless connection to the Hoodlebug Extension Trail (page NE-191) at Saylor Park.
The next segment to the east along the IHTC Pittsburgh to Harrisburg Corridor is the Path of The Flood Trail (page NE-214). The route is not yet established, so the length is uncertain. Various road routes between the two trails are 8 to 13 miles.
Ghost Town Trail meets the Hoodlebug Trail (page NE-191) at Saylor Park. This is MP0 of the Ghost Town Trail. The Hoodlebug Trail goes north for 10.7 miles to the edge of the IUP campus at Indiana and south for about 3 miles in the direction of Blairsville until it hits US22.
At Stritty’s Way trailhead on Vic Miler road, the railroad grade continues to the left. This trail has been cleared, but no final surface has been laid. Because it has been used for many years by ATVs and pickups it is passable on a mountain bike.
Dirt roads in State Game Lands #79 that are open to public travel provide opportunities for extensions of the trip, except during hunting season (Gameland regulations 2018). Most start with brisk climbs of 300 to 600 feet, but the road that crosses the trail at Bracken provides a gentler access. Turning at Bracken to cross the river provides a 5-mile loop up, along the ridge, and back down to Eliza Furnace. This is only suitable for mountain bikers with good technical riding skills plus pathfinding and map reading ability. See State Gamelands rules on page NE-13.
David and Penny Russell (co-partners in establishing the Dillweed in Dilltown) donated 675 acres to Indiana County to form the Blacklick Valley Natural Area. Hiking and equestrian trails have been developed in the area, with access across Blacklick Ck from the trail, about a mile east of the PA403/US422 interchange.
The trail is being developed by Indiana County Parks and Trails, and the Cambria County Conservation and Recreation Authority, with help from members of the Cambria & Indiana Trail Council.
There are plans to complete the connection from Church St in Cardiff to Nanty Glo, but construction has not yet started (2018).
Vicinity: Directions begin eastbound on US22 east of Blairsville, where US119 departs northbound. (US22 and US119 are the same road for over 10 miles west of here).
Saylor Park (western) trailhead: Follow US119 2.0 miles north from US22. At a traffic light, turn right/east on Main St and go 0.7 miles to the entrance of Saylor Park. Turn left into the parking lot. To get to the Ghost Town Trail, exit the far end of the parking lot, turn left just past the basketball Courts, and turn left at the “T” in the Trail. This parking lot is also a middle trailhead for the Hoodlebug Trail (page NE-191).
Heshbon trailhead: Go east on US22 from its intersection with US119 for 6.2 miles to the exit labeled Brush Valley, Roberson, Bolivar. Take this exit to the “T” with PA259. Turn right/north. Go 2.5 miles to the trailhead. The parking is on the right, just pass the crossing of Blacklick Cr on a truss bridge.
Dilltown trailhead: Go east on US22 from its intersection with US119 for 11.1 miles to PA403. Take the PA403 exit. At the end of the exit ramp turn left (north) and continue 1.2 miles to the trailhead. Parking is on the left (west) side of PA403 shortly after crossing the creek.
Wheatfield trailhead: Go east on US22 from its intersection with US119 for 13.4 miles to Wehrum Hill Rd (SR2013). Turn left/north and immediately turn right/east to stay on Wehrum Rd. Go 1.2 miles to River Rd (SR2912) and turn left/northwest. Go 300 feet to the trail.
Wehrum trailhead: Go east on US22 from its intersection with US119 for 13.4 miles to Wehrum Hill Rd (SR2013). Turn left/north and immediately turn right/east to stay on Wehrum Rd. Go 2.4 miles and just after crossing the creek the road crosses the trail, with the parking lot on the left.
Vintondale trailheads: Go east on US22 from its intersection with US119 for 13.4 miles to Wehrum Hill Rd (SR2013). Turn left/north on SR2013 and continue for 4.6 miles to the Rexis parking lot (100 yards west of Eliza furnace, just across the bridge), or 0.9 miles farther to the parking area at the western edge of Vintondale.
Twin Rocks trailhead: Go east on US22 from its intersection with US119 for 19.6 miles to Fords Corner Rd and turn left/north. Go 3.0 miles to SR3047 and the trailhead parking lot (before crossing the creek).
Nanty Glo trailhead: Go east on US22 from its intersection with US119 for 20.7 miles to PA271. Turn left/north on PA271 and continue 1.6 miles to Nanty Glo. Just after crossing South Branch Blacklick Ck, turn left on either side of the Nanty Glo Fire Station and go about one block behind the Fire Station to the trailhead. Park behind the Municipal Building and Fire Station, at the far end of the lot.
Ebensburg (eastern) trailhead: Go east on US22 from its intersection with US119 for 27.7 miles to S Center St. Turn left/north on S Center St and follow it around the first bend to the left. In one block, when it bends to the right, continue straight on Prave St. Go one block and turn left/south into the parking lot. This is a two-block long parking lot, and the trail goes out the ends.
Rexis Spur—Stritty’s Way
Vintondale (western) trailheads: See Vintondale above.
Rexis Spur—Red Mill Road trailhead: Go east on US22 from its intersection with US119 for 11.1 miles to PA403. Exit northbound on PA403, pass through Dilltown and continue on SR403. Go 5.1 miles to where SR403 turns, continue straight ahead/northeast on Hagens Rd. Go 0.9 miles and bear right/east on Schultz Rd. Go 0.5 miles and continue straight ahead/southeast on Red Mill Rd. Go 0.8 miles to where the trail crosses the road. Parking is on the left of the road.
Stritty’s Way—Vic Miller Rd trailhead: Go east on US22 from its intersection with US119 for 11.1 miles to PA403. Turn left/north on PA403, pass the Dilltown Trailhead and go 8.7 miles to US422. Turn right/southeast and go 2.5 miles to Vic Miller Rd. Turn left/north and go 0.3 miles to the trailhead.
Stritty’s Way—Church St in Cardiff trailhead: Go east on US22 from its intersection with US119 for 20.7 miles to PA271. Turn left/north on PA271 and continue 1.6 miles to Nanty Glo to the “T” with 2nd St. Turn right/southeast and go two blocks to Cardiff Rd. Turn left/north and go 0.3 miles to Expedite Rd. Turn left/west and go 300 feet to Church St. Turn left/southwest and go 425 feet to a short ramp on the right that leads to the trail.
Nanty Glo (eastern) trailhead: Note really a trailhead since there is only roads from current (2018) trail end at Cardiff.
Rest rooms, water: Rest rooms and water fountains at Dilltown trailhead, and 100 yards east of Eliza Furnace. Chemical toilets at Nanty Glo, and Twin Rocks. Vault toilets at MP4.0 and Heshbon.
Bike shop, rentals: Ebensburg Bicycles Sales and Service in Ebensburg.
Restaurant, groceries: Snacks in Dilltown at the Dillweed. Convenience store on US22 just east of PA403 (1.5 miles from Dilltown). Nanty Glo with a snack shop across from the trailhead and Foodland and Subway stores half a mile or so across the river and south on PA271. Ebensburg has many restaurant and groceries.
Camping, simple lodging: Dillweed Bed-and-Breakfast in Dilltown. Fairview B&B in Ebensburg. Hotels/Motels near the intersection of US22 and US219.
Swimming, fishing: Blacklick Ck is the victim of long-standing acid mine pollution and is considered one of the most polluted streams in Pennsylvania. Some of the smaller creeks have clean water, but others carry the acid drainage that winds up in Blacklick Ck. Swimming is not permitted in any of the clean streams.
Winter sports: Cross-country skiing on trail and in State Game Lands. Snowmobiles are not permitted on trail but are permitted in State Game Lands.
Wheelchair access: Good, except for the roads at either end of the Stritty’s Way.
Operations, Indiana County Operations, Cambria County