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Construction underway on multi-county bike trail system in WV

BILLY STRASSER | Courtesy photo
Volunteers from the New River Gorge Trail Alliance work with members of the Youth Conservation Corps and U.S. Forest Service staff to build a bike trail through a section of the Monongahela National Forest in Nicholas County. The trail will eventually become part of a 500-mile network of linked bike trails in Fayette, Nicholas and Greenbrier counties.

A 500-mile network of linked bike trails in Fayette, Nicholas and Greenbrier counties is expected to be ready to ride by mid-2020, thanks to a $1 million grant from the Appalachian Regional Commission, a $300,000 contribution from the state Division of Highways, and commitments by volunteers to donate $100,000 worth of trail-building labor.

The grant will be used to build six new trail segments and incorporate several sections of lightly traveled secondary roads to link towns, businesses and points of interest to more than 350 miles of existing rail trails and single-track trails on public lands in New River Gorge National River, Monongahela National Forest, Babcock State Park and the adjacent Beury Mountain Wildlife Management Area. It will also fund a new 12-mile stacked loop trail system at Fayetteville’s Wolf Creek Park.

The new connector trails and designated secondary road sections total about 150 miles.

“When it’s all done, you’ll be able to ride from Richwood at the north end to Mount Hope in the south,” and connect with wide variety of trails of varying skill levels between the two communities, said Billy Strasser, manager of the project, overseen by the Region 4 Planning and Development Council. “One of the main goals is to connect with as many towns and businesses as possible to bring in new tourism income.”

A Marshall University study predicts the project will bring in about $3 million in new tourism revenue and $350,000 in additional sales tax income each year, while creating 30 jobs.

The new trail system’s key components include three existing rail trails: Cranberry Tri-Rivers Trail extending 16 miles along the Cherry River from Richwood through the Monongahela National Forest to the Cranberry River’s confluence with the Gauley; the 23-mile Meadow River Trail, which lost a trestle and suffered other damage during the June, 2016 flood, but will eventually link Rainelle in Greenbrier County to Nallen on the Fayette-Nicholas County line, and the 8-mile White Oak Trail, which passes through Oak Hill and connects two other Fayette County towns, Summerlee and Carlisle.

In Fayetteville, where bike trails already connect the town to trails in the New River Gorge National River, a new bike trail will link the town to the planned 12-mile stacked loop trail system — a series of connected trail loops of varying degrees of difficulty — in nearby Wolf Creek Park, Strasser said. A new trail will also provide bike access to the proposed 300-acre Needleseye Boulder Park near Minden, which the city of Oak Hill is in the process of acquiring. Hiking and biking trails are planned for the tract, which will also provide public climbing and bouldering terrain.

In addition to trails to be built through the ARC grant, other new bike trail projects are in the works in the New River Gorge area. They include trails through the 192-acre Gaines Estate adjacent to Fayetteville and Active Southern West Virginia’s development of a rail trail from Mount Hope that will pass through the Summit Bechtel Scouting Reserve and enter the New River Gorge National River at Garden Ground Mountain, to connect with a bike trail system there. Babcock State Park has received funding to make improvements to its Narrow Gauge Trail, which follows Manns Creek along an abandoned rail bed.

“For the past year, we’ve been working under an ARC planning grant to see how we can link existing bike trails to create a large network of trails,” Strasser said. “The goal is to have all our environmental and right-of-way clearances in hand by next spring so we can begin construction next summer.”

The trail network terrain is geared mainly for mountain bikers, but includes miles of family-friendly rail trails and country road connector routes in addition to single-track for all skill levels.

“These are exciting times for trail users in our area,” said Andy Forron, owner of New River Bikes in Fayetteville and a member of the New River Trail Alliance Board. Using the $1.4 million in grant funds and volunteer commitments to connect existing and future trails will create “one of the largest concentrations of bike trails on the East Coast,” he said. “Once this project is complete, I anticipate people will be traveling from all over the country to ride our trails.”

“Moab, Utah, was a down-on-its luck [uranium] mining town until mountain biking discovered it in the early 1980s,” said Stasser. “Now, it’s overrun with tourism. We’re closer to a large population base than they are, so we should be able to draw even more people.”

Trail maintenance and sustainability plans will be developed for the bike trail system to keep it in good condition for trail users and “to make sure the (ARC’s) investment remains viable,” said Cassandra Hughart, community project specialist for the Region 4 Planing and Development Council.

The ARC grant was issued through its Partnerships for Opportunity and Workforce and Economic Revitalization (POWER) initiative to foster economic diversity in Appalachia.

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

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