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Dominion grant helps Blackwater group restore trails

Gazette-Mail file photo
Blackwater Falls

Trails linking the Tucker County town of Thomas to a network of trails on adjacent Monongahela National Forest land overlooking Blackwater Canyon and extending southward to the Olson Fire Tower will be restored and improved, thanks to a small army of volunteers and a $15,000 grant to Friends of Blackwater from the Dominion Foundation, the philanthropic arm of Dominion Resources.

“We call it the Friends of Blackwater’s Trail Extravaganza,” said Judy Rodd, director of the conservation group receiving the grant. “We will be working in partnership with the Monongahela National Forest to do trail work they no longer have the funding or staff to do on their own.”

The grant was announced by Rodd and Dominion Resources’ state policy director, Bob Orndorff, at Charleston’s Yeager Airport on Tuesday.

Work scheduled to take place this year through the Dominion Foundation grant, plus a grant made last month to Friends of Blackwater by the American Hiking Society, will focus on the Limerock and Canyon Rim trails, which total about 10.5 miles, parallel a section of Blackwater Canyon, and connect to the Olson Fire Tower by traversing a section of Forest Road 80, also targeted for repairs. About 15 miles of trail will be involved in this summer’s work, thanks to the Dominion Foundation grant.

“There are 433 miles of trails on the Monongahela and only two people to take care of them,” said Brandae Mullens of the Friends of Blackwater. “With the grant, we will be able to buy repair materials and manage volunteers.”

The Franklin-based Mountain Institute’s Summer Stewards program for high school students is focusing on the Limerock and Canyon Rim trails this summer, and has already begun clearing work on Limerock, Mullens said. Other work to be done under the grant includes repairing or replacing footbridges, repairing washed-out or hazardous trail tread and improving drainage. New trail signs that include both directional and historical information, may also become a part of the project.

Limerock and Canyon Rim trails can be reached by hiking or biking the Blackwater Canyon Rail Trail from the town of Thomas.

In addition to the trail work, “we hope to eventually restore the Olson Fire Tower,” Rodd said. The 100-foot tower, topped with an observer’s “cab,” was built in 1963 atop a 3,736-foot-high knob on Backbone Mountain. It replaced the state’s first fire tower, built in 1922 at the same site. The Monongahela National Forest allows visitors to climb the 133 steel steps to the platform supporting the observer’s cab to take in a panoramic view.

The Friends of Blackwater grant is one of 64 grants totaling $1 million awarded to 64 organizations in 10 states by the Dominion Foundation this year, Orndorff said, covering projects ranging from “building a handicap-accessible kayak ramp in Elkins to adding some additional trails to the Blackwater Canyon area.”

This year’s Dominion Foundation grants also included money to help the Preston County Parks and Recreation Commission develop an arboretum and interpretive trails, to recognize outstanding volunteers in the West Virginia Watershed Network, and to help the Rails to Trails Conservancy complete rail trails in West Virginia and four neighboring states. Since 2003, the foundation has donated $26.7 million to a wide variety of environmental projects.

Dominion is one of the nation’s largest producers and transporters of energy. Its West Virginia holdings and projects include the Mount Storm Power Station in Grant County, Dominion Hope natural gas and development of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline.

Reach Rick Steelhammer at rsteelhammer@wvgazettemail.com, 304-348-5169, or follow @rsteelhammer on Twitter.

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