The next time you travel on the GAP, especially through the Westmoreland county section, GAP Mileposts 105-116, think about how well maintained the Trail is and how much you are enjoying your ride or walk. It takes a team of dedicated volunteers who contribute their talents, skills and knowledge of maintenance tools and equipment, teamwork, and desire to complete tasks efficiently and effectively.
Bob Hand, ten-year member, states “Our goal is to have a well-maintained trail that will be attractive to users seeking a good recreational experience and will help the local economy through the dollars those users spend in local businesses. “Thanks to every one of the Over the Hill Gang maintenance crew for their time, efforts and dedication to our work. We are consistently recognized as the best maintained section of the trail.”
"In November 2018 the heavy rain began and caused many areas of minor damage to the Trail and two major landslides either onto the trail or into drainage ditches," mentions Bob Hand in his 2018 article on the WYTC OTHG accomplishments.
The OTHG responded with full and continued force to correct the problems and strategize for continued efforts in 2019.
The WYTC acknowledges the tenacity, perseverance, and dedication of these volunteers. Why do they volunteer? What makes this fun for them? What are their contributions? What should you know if you want to volunteer with this group? Read below to find out more about these passionate and inspiring volunteers.
picture by Bonnie Lockschmidt
comments by the OTHG; edited by Donna Morrison
Picture by Jim Logan, carpenter apprentice
Bob started helping with the OTHG in 2008, shortly after retiring and helped only on special work parties until sometime in 2009. Because of his extensive riding on the GAP since 2001, he learned that it was a volunteer organization that maintained the Trail and felt he wanted to help. Bob states, “Being part of a dedicated group that takes pride in the work we do to maintain the Westmoreland County Section of the GAP has been very satisfying.”
In addition to showing up for the weekly work parties and contributing physical efforts, he helps to plan equipment purchases and projects, and writes grant applications to pay for the equipment and supplies needed to maintain and improve the Trail. “It is very rewarding when a grant is awarded to the Trail and I feel a sense of pride and accomplishment knowing that monies will be spent improving the Trail and purchasing items for future maintenance.”
Bob wants future volunteers to know that they can participate in a group (OTHG) that is making meaningful contributions to one of America's greatest recreational resources as well as helping to rebuild the economic base of the Yough River valley communities.
Tim has been a member since 2005 and lives locally, in West Newton, along the GAP Tail. He joined because he knew Paul Hamilton, one of the Original Over The Hill Gang (OOTHG) members. Tim’s specialty is maintaining the equipment. He brings technical and mechanical skills to the OTHG.
According to Tim, “the inventory of equipment has grown tremendously through the years and included dump trucks, mowing tractors, excavators, trailers to haul excavators, chain saws and more.” Tim states, “my most challenging work is learning the new equipment, like the front loader for the tractor. You Tube is a tremendous help.
Recently, the OTHG received equipment from a generous donor, a WYTC member, which included hand and battery-operated tools, such as saws, drills, and grinders. We are thankful for those."
“Most of the equipment is on hand, which makes it easier for the Gang to use when needed. The pipes along the trail need cleaned occasionally and we will contract with professionals if need be. Drainage is important!”
Jim has been working on the Trail with the OTHG for about 9 years. After retirement, he was looking for something to do and Trail work was just what he needed. Jim states “I'm working with a great group of people, I love the outdoor work, and getting to meet people from all over the country is really interesting. You get to learn what other bike trails and people throughout the country are like.” Jim enjoys the camaraderie among the crew and after a hard day’s work, stopping at the Trailside Pub for a cold drink before going home. “It is always light-hearted fun and talk.” Jim states, "some of the maintenance includes cutting trees to clear the trail, repairing washouts, cutting the grass and maintaining the benches. Also, in some cases they repair gates and do whatever is necessary to maintain the Trail to keep the bikers and walkers happy."
Jim believes that he has been volunteering for more than 5 years. He really enjoys working with all the members of the group. Jim states, “All the members of the group are great people. We have a lot of fun, but we work hard to keep the Trail in great shape.”
“Just like all members of the group, we do any maintenance that is necessary to keep the Trail in great shape.” Jim wants future volunteers to know that any help and time is always appreciated. “It’s hard to get new volunteers, but if you like to ride a very nice trail, volunteering is a great way to have fun and to help maintain the Trail.”
Keith is entering his third year as a member of the OTHG. Charlie Smith, WYTC member, first asked Keith to get involved with the future bike trail in the late 1970s but his bank manager's job, and other community and home projects, filled his plate. In later years, he would go to Confluence to ride his bike on the only part of the Trail that was open. This was expanded to walking the unopened trail and eventually riding the Trail from Frostburg to Pittsburgh. Keith states, “When my better half and I retired, she became a trail monitor and told me I should help on the Trail maintenance crew (OTHG). I showed up at a meeting with another new member and man I knew, Ralph Melocci. Ralph is also known as the "prodigal wood cutter" to the OTHG. One thing has led to another, so instead of just participating each year in the WYTC Poker Run (fund raiser), I became a Trail member, attended board meetings and seminars, volunteered on Wednesdays with the OTHG’s trail maintenance projects, and monitored the trail monitor while she monitors the trail.”
Keith has always been active in the community and believe in giving back to his community. “It is easy to give back to the Trail since it has given me enjoyment for many years. After having a desk job for 45 years, working in the fresh air, sunshine, mud, etc. is a welcome change.
Keith believes that the combined knowledge of the OTHG members also results in solution to almost any problem. “Many hands make less work and being able to joke and kid with everyone makes the day enjoyable. It also makes you feel good to know that what you do is appreciated.” As other OTHG members have stated, “the vast majority of bikers and hikers that pass us comment on how nice our section of the Trail is and thank us for what we are doing.”
Keith enjoys talking to the trail users and last year spoke to bikers from New York City, San Diego, Minneapolis and Boston, PA. He has two perspectives: Trail user and Trail maintenance member. “When I just rode the Trail, I would question why one thing, or another was not done. Now that I work on the Trail, I wonder how so much can get done with the 10 to 15 dedicated OTHG members. I also think about how much more could be accomplished with a few more individuals who would like to not only stay active and healthy but have an enjoyable time doing it.”
Keith’s advice is that new volunteers consider contributing to the legacy of one of the greatest bike trails in the world - it is in your back yard.
Franklin has volunteered with the OTHG since the early 1990’s and was one of the original members to begin working on the Trail. Read the story about the Original Over The Hill Gang (OOTHG) Members. Franklin’s name is etched on the OOTHG plaque on a boulder, across from the Trailside Restaurant, on the river side. Franklin lives 18 miles from the Trail, in New Eagle. Franklin states “There is a lot of similarity over the years in the type of work that we do such as keeping the trail in shape in any way possible. In the early 1990’s there were few tools and equipment. Things have changed a lot since then and we have a work barn.”
One of the original volunteers, David Hamilton, asked him to get involved with the OOTHG (Original Over The Hill Gang). While Franklin’s wife enjoyed Cedar Creek Park, Franklin and Dave worked on the Trail. Dave asked Franklin to volunteer because he saw him riding his bike one day on the trail.
Franklin enjoys working with all the volunteers who mainly cut trees, weed whack, and build picnic shelters with roofs. They also place benches along the Trail to honor someone.
He believes that “the work is the same as in the 90’s, but there is more variety.” Franklin encourages new volunteers to join. “You don’t have to be over the hill to volunteer. Any age is good. The camaraderie makes it worth it. It is fun and someone is always telling jokes.”
Rest in Peace Franklin (Feb.10, 2022)
Around 2007, Sam states that he was introduced to the OTHG after listening to glowing comments from member Dave Hamilton, a member of the Original Over The Hill Gang, a group that formed in the early 1990’s. Sam began working on maintenance projects such as tree removal, spreading gravel, trail grooming, drainage, etc. Sam acknowledges that “It was, however through the Belle Vernon Rotary along with the OTHG that I worked on the pavilion at Smithton and the building, painting and installing new permanent signs that mark features of the Trail.” “Due to open-heart surgery my physical work has been limited the last two years, so I have instead worked on the rail car at the West Newton Station securing the outside with welding, paint and repairs and the inside with paint and exhibits of historical and geographical highlights on the Trail in our section.” His wife Sandy worked with him repairing the interior of the rail car.
Sam states “Working with this group has been a joy as I listen to the stories and enjoy the fellowship. I've learned a tremendous amount about the history of my area and about skills I had never tried. Most of all, it is FUN. Every person has a great sense of humor and makes everyone feel needed and welcome. One realizes immediately that his/her volunteer time is necessary to the continued success of an important resource of our area.”
Ralph has been volunteering for 2 seasons. Ralph states: “My wife, children and I have always enjoyed the Trail. Recent retirement has provided an opportunity to give something back to it. Also, the camaraderie among the guys is a ton of fun!”
Ralph brings skills using a chainsaw and a concrete mixing hoe. He is also experienced a little with concrete, masonry and wooden structural elements.
Ralph’s advice is “Be prepared to have some good-natured fun over the course of a short weekly session (weather and your schedule permitting)! You will never be asked to perform a task beyond your physical abilities or endurance level. Also, be prepared to meet lots of friendly and appreciative trail users! It is an energizing and rewarding pursuit.”
John has been a volunteer for about a year and a half. Having a sense of humor John states “I tried to join the OTHG 20 years ago, but they told me I was too young. I am now 70.” Confirming what others have said about volunteering, John states “It is good to work with people who are really proud of the trail. The team spirit and the ‘Atta Boys’ from the guys and especially the Trail users makes this work so rewarding.”
John is happy because in 2018, his big project was to get all the benches painted, and he started to work on the old P&LE mileage markers and the bench in front of the station. Unfortunately, he has been unable to work for a while due to an injury in October 2018 and hopes to be back by April or May.
His wants new volunteers to know that they will be working with great people. He was personally welcomed by this group and he looks forward to working this summer.
Kent lives in N. Huntingdon and has been a volunteer for 6-7 years. One day on the Trail, near Whitsett, a friend, Butch was working to remove some trees on the Trail after a microburst. Butch asked Kent to join them. Kent states “I like to make a difference.” “There is always something to do, such as cutting trees, but one project that I really enjoyed was installing the wiring for lighting in the fuel shed.”
He is motivated to maintain the Trail because he uses it regularly.
His advice to new volunteers is “it is hard work, but you build a camaraderie working in a team.” The Gang meets every Wednesday and enjoys seeing their friends, working with them, and having lunch afterwards.
John has been a volunteer approximately 8 years. He believes that the Trail is a worthy project. He has mostly been involved in cleanup.
John states "the group has a lot of hardworking, talented people who volunteer because they enjoy it and enjoy contributing."
Jack has been a member of the OTHG for 6 years. He was riding his bike on the GAP and saw Tim Aaron who mentioned the work crew – The OTHG and what they contribute to the Trail. Jack said “this sounded interesting because I’m a retired shop teacher. This work would be right up my alley.”
"Whatever needs done, we do it. With the recent rain, cleaning the trail, especially landslides have kept us very busy. There were so many washouts. Also, the OTHG hires contractors sometimes to handle the excavation, the big work. It’s fun watching them and especially, the result."
When the crew is working, and travelers/campers slow down and thank them, it is immensely rewarding. Jack’s advice to new volunteers “Give it a try!" Jack states, "It’s not mandatory. Some volunteers come and go." However, one of the new guys is about 30-Chris who lives in the area. Chris cuts grass in his free time. Jack states “The OTHG has lots of fun working on the Trail. They go to the Trailside for sandwiches and refreshments/drinks afterwards. They spend 3-4 hours working, and 2 hours afterwards at the Trailside restaurant.” Jack enjoys spending time with the Gang and making contributions which benefit anyone who travels on the GAP.
Charlie has been volunteering for 4-5 years. He lives near Van Meter, along the Trail, and as such, he saw that things needed to be done to maintain the Trail. Tim Aaron saw him one day when riding his bike and encouraged him to join The Over The Hill Gang.
“One day a tree fell on the Trail and I helped the Gang to remove it. I enjoy being outside, cutting grass and weed-whacking.The OTHG works once a week, on Wednesday. A lot of the time we are involved with weed-whacking, tree trimming, cleanup of fallen trees, and generally trail cleanup, especially after all the heavy rains.”
Charley states, “This year we’ve had a lot of rain, and most challenging tasks are clearing ditches, and repairing the Trail when it is washed out due to rain. There is a lot of manpower needed to remove trees from the Trail, especially when it is blocked. When the boulders fall, the Trail has the needed equipment such as a tractor, to move them. If you see a problem on the Trail, contact the Trail Manager, Leslie Pierce and she will call Bob Hand.”
For future volunteers Charlie states “You will have fun and it is very busy work with trimming and resurfacing, replacing poles, bollards, and gates.”
He says, “some bikers ride bikes like they drive a car.” My advice to bikers is to slow down on the trail to allow us to work for your benefit. The OTHG will begin working again in March with nicer weather. Charlie says, “I’m looking forward to it.” “You meet people from all over the world. Some don’t speak English. But many comment on how well maintained the Trail is compared to others. It makes for an interesting day.”
Jerry has been volunteering with the OTHG for 2 years. He is motivated to give back for the many years he and his family have used this GAP Trail and other trails in Western PA, and to help keep the Trail in good shape for the years ahead for others to enjoy.
Jerry states, “I’m one of the team members that contributes to Trail maintenance activities such as weed whacking, tree trimming, cleanup of fallen trees, trail cleanup and repair after heavy rains, and installation of new gates, posts, and bollards.”
“The group members have an impressive collection of talent and a strong interest in maintaining and using the trail.”
Chris has been volunteering for 2 years and plans to continue this year. He lives in West Newton and believes that it is important to support and contribute to one’s community. Chris states “I enjoy being outside and working with my hands and I appreciate how hard everyone in the group works.”
Some of the projects that Chris has worked on include clearing the overhead brush for the repaving of the Trail and grass cutting. “Due to my work schedule this past year, I could not work as planned with the group on Wednesday mornings, but I was still able to help with the grass cutting in my free time,” Chris mentions.
Chris may be the youngest volunteer of the OTHG maintenance group, turning 30 in November and joined when he was 27. “Future volunteers should realize that no matter your age or what your schedule is, there is always work that needs done.” “The guys who volunteer work extremely hard and could use an extra hand no matter your skill set.”
Chris encourages others to help support the OTHG and support the great communities along the trail.
Rowan has been volunteering with the OTHG for over 25 years and is a member of The Original Over The Hill Gang (OOTHG). His contributions are the same as others for maintenance, clearing, building, etc. but further, Rowan served as President of the WYTC in its formative years. You will find Rowan’s name etched on a plaque, on a boulder, across from the Trailside Restaurant. Rowan states “I live in Rostraver, close to the Trail. When the WYTC sponsors an event, I can easily arrive early to help with setting up and tearing down the canopies. I enjoy helping with each event sponsored by the WYTC. “
“How the Trail has changed! Over the past 25 years, there has been much construction, improving the infrastructure, collaborating with many agencies and Trail supporters to make it what it is today.”
Rowan’s advice to future volunteers is to “give back to your communities so that future generations can benefit and then, pay it forward.”
I have biked the GAP trail for quite a few years. A number of years ago a lawyer from McKeesport said to me on the trail: "The trail is something you really should support. It is free and you have exercise, beautiful scenery, and stress relief".
That started it all with WYTC. First a member, then a participant in events, volunteered at events, and then became a trail monitor and the Membership Chair.
After retiring as an RN, I now work at the West Newton Station a couple days/week. It is so enjoyable to talk to folks day biking or going the whole length to Washington D.C. This year, I started working with the "Over the Hill Gang" taking care of the landscaping flowers around the station and King lot, pulling weeds and weed whacking. I love the outdoors and this gives me a chance to help WYTC (a great group) while enjoying the outside time.