What is the sheepskin trail?
The Sheepskin Trail is a 34 mile recreational amenity currently under development in Fayette County, Pennsylvania, from Dunbar Township to Point Marion Borough. The trail will alternate between a “rail-trail” and a “rail-with-trail” system following the old Penn Central line, the old Baltimore & Ohio / CSX line, and an active short line – Southwest Pennsylvania Railroad. When completed, the trail will pass the following communities: Dunbar, Mount Braddock, Lemont Furnace, Uniontown, Hopwood, Fairchance, Smithfield, Cornish, Outcrop, Gans, Lake Lynn and Point Marion.
This trail is the missing link to nationally significant trail systems. To the north, it will link with the Pittsburgh-to-Washington DC Rail-Trail Network known as the Great Allegheny Passage and the Potomac Heritage National Scenic Trail. To the south, it will link with the West Virginia Mon River Rail-Trail System.
The original rail line that will define much of the Sheepskin Trail was built in the 1890’s as the Fairmont, Morgantown, and Pittsburgh Branch of the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad, which was constructed to meet the needs of the booming coal and coke industry in the region. In fact, the rail service opened the southern end of the Connellsville Coke Region. That history will remain with trail users being able to view remnants of several coke ovens along the route including: Cheat River Coke Woks, Ada’s Bottom Coke Works, Atchison Coke Works and Shoaf.
According to railroad buffs, the old railroaders called this rail The Sheepskin Line. When it first opened, the trains scattered sheep for miles. The disgruntled herders were heard to exclaim: “Darn Sheepskinners!” and the name stuck.
In 1996, Fayette County received a planning grant from the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR) and selected Mackin Engineering to conduct a trail feasibility study that would define and assess the potential trail routes. The study found the Sheepskin Trail to be a viable project – identifying the preferred route and alternatives. The County moved forward, securing funding to design and construct Segment 1 which connects the northern terminus of the trail to the Youghiogheny Trail in Connellsville – now part of the Great Allegheny Passage – to Dunbar Borough. The Katherine Mabis McKenna Foundation provided the County with a grant to acquire approximately 84 acres of former CSX rail line – thereby securing needed Right of Way to construct several miles of the trail south of Uniontown.
In late 2010, the Fayette County Commissioners adopted a resolution naming the National Road Heritage Corridor (NRHC) its Sheepskin Trail development management partner. Since that time, the NRHC has been working to continue the design, land acquisition and construction of this important recreational asset. Currently under development are two more segments with plans to begin a third as funding becomes available.