Future improvements to the Elk River could mean increased accessibility as well as a potential trail linking Charleston to Clendenin and beyond.The state of the river and possible development were discussed at a Charleston Land Trust board meeting Monday evening.Accessibility improvements cover a range of potential projects, namely campgrounds and boat ramps, with the idea to increase public use of the river. A trail could take a number of different approaches, including a rail trail or something similar.For now, any such improvements are just ideas, and nothing has been designed or formally agreed upon.
"It just seems a shame that we're missing this fabulous opportunity," said Terrell Ellis, a consultant representing the West Virginia Land Trust.Ellis said the West Virginia Land Trust has funding available for land protection in a number of watersheds in southern West Virginia, including the Elk, Kanawha, Coal, Gauley, Greenbrier and Guyandotte rivers.While the money available to the trust can't be spent on trail construction, it could be used for land acquisition, the purchase of conservation easements and stewardship activities, Ellis said."We like to invest in projects that meet community needs and recreation," she said.If built, a trail along the Elk River could include areas near the Charleston Civic Center and the new Courtyard by Marriott hotel, which is currently under construction. Projects along the river in city limits would be able to be administered by the Charleston Land Trust.Charleston Councilman Tom Lane, who is on the Charleston Land Trust board, said one of the city's "top goals" is establishing a trail system."It is something we would like to see happen," he said.The city's engineering department already has sketches for a trail along the Elk from the river's mouth to the civic center.In Charleston, trail planners would need to be creative in the trail's construction. Parts of the trail may need to use city streets to get around infrastructure along the river, such as a water treatment facility and the Slack Street recycling center.Part of the proposed trail would also include areas around Coonskin Park, and land trust members wanted to ensure the proposed Coonskin Park bridge over the Elk River would not create an impediment to the route.The West Virginia Land Trust has five years to spend the aforementioned funds. Ellis said one and a half years has already gone by, and the land trust is trying not to spend the money in a haphazard way.
"We want to be thoughtful about it," she said.Mary Stanley, another Charleston Land Trust board member, said there could be additional funding for access to the Elk River because of the river's recent designation as a water trail from around Sutton to Charleston.Ellis will be at future Charleston Land Trust meetings to continue to discuss options along the Elk River."The dream of connecting Charleston to Clendenin ... is really a great dream and vision," she said.Contact writer Matt Murphy at Matt.Murphy@dailymailwv.com or 304-348-4817.