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Mudslide cleared, but could happen again

The mudslide along 50 feet of the Butler-Freeport Community Trail, shown above, which occurred the weekend of May 7, has been cleaned up. Trail users are urged to use caution at the area of the slide, as some mud remains on the trail. Submitted photo

The mudslide that covered about 50 feet of the Butler-Freeport Community Trail a few weeks ago has been cleaned up and the trail reopened, but the president of the trail association said the situation could happen again.

Chris Ziegler, trail president, said the steep hillside along the trail between the Monroe and Laneville trail heads let loose on May 7 and 8 after repeated soaking rainfall events over the course of a few days.

The slide spewed mud, saplings and stone onto the trail, which had to be closed for a few days while the public works crew from South Buffalo Township, Armstrong County, used their heavy equipment to clear the trail, Ziegler said.

“With the amount of rain we had, the ground was already wet and it just failed,” Ziegler said of the section of hillside.

She said neither the mudslide nor the cleanup effort damaged the trail.

“The road crew was very cautious not to damage the trail,” Ziegler said.

There was no charge for the cleanup, Ziegler said.

She has been asking trail users to exercise caution at the area of the slide, as some mud remains on the trail. The mud will be scooped off as soon as it dries, she said.

A similar stretch of soaking rain could cause more of the hill to slide down onto the trail, Ziegler said.

“I don’t think it’s done sliding by any means,” she said. “It’s a pretty big hill.”

She said the hillside may slide in increments and eventually stabilize itself, but the huge amount of funding it would take to shore up the hill is not available.

“You try to stabilize 400 feet of hillside,” Ziegler said.

She said various sections of hillside between the trail and Buffalo Creek have given way during her many years as trail president, but never the other side.

Ziegler and other volunteers will monitor the hills along the trail during rain events, but she is asking those who use the trail to also keep an eye on the hillsides.

“If anybody is out there and notices anything, they can email us at butlerfreeporttrail@yahoo.com,” she said.

Ziegler said she may have engineers look at the ditches along the trail in the area of the slide to see if they can be modified to hold more water.

“We’re going to have to come up with a plan in the fall for next spring,” she said. “There’s so much water.”

She said use of the trail rose by 450% during the coronavirus pandemic.

Ziegler sees and hears the same amount of activity now, as the trail is adjacent to her yard. “I would say we retained a lot of those users,” she said.

Ziegler approved about 200 new people requesting to join the trail’s Facebook page after the slide. “There are new people (joining) every day,” she said.

The 20-mile rail trail runs from a trail head off Kaufman Drive in Butler to an area just south of Main Street in Freeport, Armstrong County.