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As we learned with the Shawnee Sports Complex, investing in outdoor recreation can produce big returns.

Shawnee opened in 2018 and, by 2019, was hosting major tournaments, drawing out-of-state visitors and contributing millions to the local economy. The 2019 U.S. Soccer Eastern Regional brought 260 teams to the Kanawha Valley and sold out hotels from Beckley to Ashland, Kentucky. And although COVID-19 canceled most of the events for 2020, Shawnee is back in business and filling up the schedule for 2021 and beyond.

The Kanawha County Commission is not content to stand by and admire the success of the sports complex.

Over the past year, and with the support of the Benedum Foundation, the county has developed a comprehensive outdoor recreation plan for the 30-mile stretch of communities along the Kanawha River — from east of Charleston to Gauley Bridge, in Fayette County.

We recognize the scenic beauty and potential in the Upper Kanawha Valley. The county intends to work with our partners to implement an aggressive plan to make the Upper Kanawha Valley a recreation and tourism destination.

The outdoor recreation plan, created by Civil and Environmental Consultants and a steering committee of local stakeholders, envisions a system of ridge-top hiking and biking trails, water trails along Paint Creek and Cabin Creek and boat access points along the Kanawha River. It also identifies potential sites for RV parks, cabins and camping, to serve visitors and residents alike.

After years of attempting to locate a suitable site, we feel confident that the Hatfield-McCoy Trail will, at last, be opening a trailhead in Kanawha County. The trail has a widely successful track record in Southern West Virginia — managing to sell 65,000 passes in 2020, despite the pandemic.

Another exciting development is underway at the 5,000-acre Mammoth Preserve, a former surface mine site located just north of Smithers. The Mammoth site is being developed by the West Virginia Land Trust for nonmotorized uses. When complete, it will attract equestrian users, hikers, mountain bikers and backcountry campers.

With the New River Gorge designation as a national park, the Upper Kanawha Valley is primed to attract visitors looking for more of what West Virginia has to offer. In turn, the county remains committed to supporting Upper Kanawha Valley communities through our small-business assistance program, UKAN, to further develop the businesses and jobs necessary to support visitors to the region.

A criticism of regional plans is that, once finished, they tend to linger on the shelf, collecting dust. Here, that will not be the case. After all, the Shawnee Sports Complex started the same way — as a plan and a sketch on the back of a napkin.

Editor’s note: The UKV outdoor recreation plan can be viewed at: https://kanawha.us/ upper-kanawha- valley-recreation- master-plan.

Ben Salango is a Charleston attorney and a member of the Kanawha County Commission.

UKAN, can be found at: https://kanawha.us/ukan.

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