CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Members of the Charleston Land Trust agree that development of a walking trail along the Elk River is an opportunity not to be missed, but question how it can come to fruition.Terrell Ellis, of the West Virginia Land Trust, attended Monday's Charleston Land Trust meeting, in part, for an "exploratory conversation" about the role the state land trust might play in the project.Ellis said the West Virginia Land Trust is looking to disperse funds from settlements of federal lawsuits over Clean Water Act violations."We would like to invest in projects that, 'A,' will sort of meet community needs as identified by the community, and 'B,' that will further recreation or enhance recreational goals for communities," Ellis said.The West Virginia Land Trust can assist in land acquisition, conservation easements and stewardship, Ellis said."We could acquire land if it were available to use for the trail and put a perpetual conservation easement on it," Ellis said. "I think the greatest opportunity is outside of Charleston."
The current plan is to incorporate the trail into the development of a Marriott Courtyard hotel at the confluence of the Kanawha and Elk rivers -- and between Kanawha Boulevard and Virginia Street East. The trail would connect the lower Kanawha Boulevard walkway to the Charleston Civic Center.Charleston City Council member Tom Lane mentioned the possibility of the trail extending beyond its current endpoint to connecting with Coonskin Park. In that case, easements would be needed and so would a solution to address a water company facility that would interrupt the extension.Because the Elk River is a designated water trail, Charleston Land Trust member Mary Stanley asked if would it be more appropriate to focus on developing river access.Stanley said there "may be some funding available, [and] it seems to me it makes sense to do that one thing that may encourage uses for others, such as a rail trail," Stanley said.Alisa Bailey, president and CEO of the Charleston Convention and Visitors Bureau, supported the idea of developing the water trail while working on a more comprehensive rail-trail strategy."That seems to be the easier win while you're doing this," Bailey said.Reach Rachel Molenda at firstname.lastname@example.org