A feasibility study for a proposed ATV trail system in central West Virginia similar to the Hatfield-McCoy Trails network in the southern section of the state will be presented to the state Legislature next month, following more than a year of study by the Rahall Appalachian Transportation Institute at Marshall University and a series of public workshops in a seven-county area.
The study area for the new trail system includes Braxton, Calhoun, Clay, Gilmer, Lewis, Nicholas and Webster counties.
A 5,000- to 10,000-acre tract of land somewhere in the seven-county region will be identified as the most feasible site for the trails system, based on environmental features, existing visitor amenities such as lodging and restaurants, future development possibilities and travel patterns in the study area, according to Amanda Payne, project leader for the Rahall Appalachian Transportation Institute (RTI).
Like the Hatfield-McCoy system, the central West Virginia ATV trail network would be developed on private land through lease agreements with property owners. The RTI produced the feasibility study that led to the creation of the Hatfield-McCoy Trails system, now more than 500 miles long.
“We are staying away from all public lands in the seven-county area, including the Monongahela National Forest and any state lands as well,” Payne said.
The trail system would be managed by a regional economic development authority similar to the Hatfield McCoy Trail Authority, Payne said.
The study, authorized by the Legislature in 2013, is intended to determine whether a new ATV trail network in central West Virginia would be sustainable, as well as a worthwhile vehicle for diversifying the economy, creating a positive economic impact for the region, and creating a culture of entrepreneurship for trail-related businesses.
“The preliminary results of the study show that the trail system would have a fairly significant impact on central West Virginia,” said Sen. Greg Boso, R-Nicholas, who was among those attending a public workshop on the proposed trail system in Richwood last month. “It would be a welcome breath of fresh air for an area that has relied heavily on the coal industry and help it overcome the travesty of its decline.”
While mining has been a mainstay of the economy throughout much of the seven-county study area, “there is a lot of forest land that has not been affected by mining,” Boso said. “Much of it is owned by holding companies that traditionally do a lot of forestry work.”
By using agreements similar to those used by the Hatfield-McCoy system to lease trail property from landowners, the holding companies would retain ownership of the land, be protected from liability issues involving trail riders and be able to continue timbering operations.
“If a company’s plan for harvesting hardwoods comes in conflict with a section of trail, it’s not an insurmountable issue,” Boso said. The trail segment could be temporarily closed or relocated elsewhere on the tract. Former haul roads could be converted to trail use fairly easily, he said.
“I’m pretty excited about the trail system,” Boso said. “It’s a real chance to draw people into this part of West Virginia to experience the recreational opportunities we have here, and spur entrepreneurial spirit. The lodging facilities, restaurants and other spin-off businesses that are happening along the trail in Southern West Virginia could occur here, too.”
If the study concludes that the trail system is worth pursuing, obtaining money from the Legislature to phase-in its development will be challenging, given the financial challenges state government faces, Boso said.
“But we are at the point that we have to invest in projects that will get people back to work. Diversification is going to be paramount. We need to do what’s necessary in the next session to move forward and take this vision to the next step.”
A public survey on the feasibility of the trail system for those living in the study area is available at http://survey.constantcontact.com
The feasibility study is expected to be complete by Jan. 4.
Reach Rick Steelhammer at
304-348-5169, or follow
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