Kathleen Ganster with her son Kenton on the Rachel Carson trail near Pittsburgh. (Photo: Reid Frazier)
Near Pittsburgh, a popular hiking trail named after a hero of the environmental movement winds up and down hilly terrain, passing busy suburban roads, power lines, pipeline rights-of-way and even a coal ash pile. Now, a shale gas well has been added along the trail and as the Allegheny Front’s Reid Frazier reports, some hikers aren’t happy about this latest industrial feature.
KAISER: Around a thousand hikers recently took part in the Rachel Carson Challenge.
It’s a 35-mile hike outside Pittsburgh along a trail named after one of the region’s most famous residents, credited with inspiring the modern environmental movement. But hikers this year saw a new addition on the trail: the fracking industry. Reid Frazier of the Allegheny Front has our story.
FRAZIER: Bob Mulshine is in charge of the Rachel Carson Challenge, an increasingly popular endurance hike through Pittsburgh’s northern suburbs. He’s a five-time finisher of the challenge, a brutal sunup to sundown march up and down hilly terrain. Many don’t finish.
A few days before the one-day hike is set to begin, Mulshine is taking me out to see the route. We hike over a wooded knob. Then, the woods end.
MULSHINE: So that's a nice wide swath.
FRAZIER: We look out over a pipeline right-of-way, about 50 feet wide.
FRAZIER: So this is the trail right here?
FRAZIER: Or was?
MULSHINE: Or was.
FRAZIER: Where once there was a forest, now there’s a clear cut alley leading to a drilling rig, a few hundred feet away, which Mulshine just now notices.
MULSHINE: Oh, and there is the drill site… Now that this is cleared, you can see it. I had not seen that before.
FRAZIER: Mulshine’s surprised, but he’s happy with the work he sees.
MULSHINE: So the trees have been taken down and removed. There’s no big…
FRAZIER: The rig is for a Marcellus shale well pad that Range Resources is developing here, on a portion of the trail in Indiana Township. To build the pad, the company rerouted a portion of the trail not far from here.
This year, Mulshine says, hundreds of hikers will see the drilling operations as they pass by. His main concern is that hikers don’t get lost when they cross this pipeline right-of-way.
MULSHINE: All we would have to do is put some kind of markers out that would keep people walking right across that. And for us as a hiking group, this is not an inconvenience.
FRAZIER: Mulshine says this is the first time there’s been fracking along the Rachel Carson, but it’s hardly the only industrial activity on the route. The trail skirts busy suburban roads, power lines – even a coal ash pile. He says the Marcellus shale industry is just another impediment to navigate around.
MULSHINE: We don't own any of the trail. We do not control this property at all. We walk totally at the… from the generosity of our volunteers who maintain the trails and the landowners and the people who control the land, when they give us their permission to use it.
FARZIER: Still not everyone is happy about the drilling. Kenton Ganster has hiked the Rachel Carson Challenge. Today he’s hiking a section of the trail with his mother, Kathleen, who’s done the Rachel Carson challenge four times and volunteers for the non-profit that runs it. He says it was a shock to see a drilling rig so close to the trail.
GANSTER: Yeah, it's just not something you really want to see. It's like a strip mine or anything else like that. You just really don't want to see it out here when you're coming to get away from all the industrialism and everything.
FRAZIER: Even though he doesn’t like having the drilling rig so close to the trail, he thinks it’s good for the urbanites who hike it to be able to see where their energy comes from.
GANSTER: Silver lining kind of thing, I do think it's good for the Rachel Carson type of crowd people to see it, because – I mean, you can look at it and decide what you think, and you can smell it and decide what you think, you know what I mean. And just see, is that something you want in your backyard. Because that's essentially what this is, is Pittsburgh's backyard.
FRAZIER: Range Resources, which is a sponsor of the hike, didn’t respond to interview requests. But Mulshine said he’s happy with how the company has handled the situation.
MULSHINE: We were thrilled that a drilling company wasn't trying to force us out of the woods.
FRAZIER: But what would Rachel Carson – whose book “Silent Spring” helped launch the environmental movement in the ‘60s – think of fracking taking place along a trail named after her?
Mulshine says, he doesn’t know.
MULSHINE: Would she like this? She bought a place up in Maine, a very secluded place up in Maine. We're trying to find the best we can for the people that are living in the area.
FRAZIER: And doing that, he says, involves compromise, and cutting a trail around the obstacles.
I'm Reid Frazier.
KAISER: Reid Frazier reports for the Allegheny Front.
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