It’s no secret that the rail trails around West Virginia are a booming success. If you go to any part of the trail during pretty much any time of the day, you’ll see people riding bikes or going on runs. It’s a vastly used system in the community, but there’s a lot more to it than just a stretch of land to ride on and get a glimpse at nature. There are currently 564 miles of trails in West Virginia, and 80 miles of potential trail available.
The Mon River Trails Conservancy wants to keep this success going and is aiding the Industrial Heartland Trails Coalition in one of the biggest projects called The Parkersburg to Pittsburgh Corridor. This extension would allow residents from Morgantown to ride along a trail up into Pittsburgh. The Mon River Trails Conservancy website states that the connection would make Pittsburgh the hub of a broad network with trails from the metro area to Cleveland, Akron and Ashtabula in Ohio, Morgantown and Parkersburg in West Virginia, and Erie in Pennsylvania. Just imagine how exciting it would be to take a bike ride from Morgantown up to Pittsburgh to watch the Pirates play!
In an interview with the Times West Virginia on April 9th, Kelly Pack, The Trail Development Coordinator with Rails to Trails Conservancy stated, “. . . the gaps remaining in the Parkersburg-to-Pittsburgh corridor are few, and could — with support from the communities, and successful fundraising or grant awards — be complete in as little five years.” Raising the funds for this project is still in progress.
A large portion of the trails around Morgantown are mostly maintained by the MRTC. They are responsible for building 48 miles of rail trail outside of Morgantown and are working with the cities of Morgantown, Star City and BOPARC on several community connectors that will improve access to the rail trails, such as the Collins Ferry Road Connector , the Deckers Creek Pedestrian Bridge , and the Foundry Street Link. The Mon River Trails Conservancy is always accepting donations and encourages volunteers to help keep the trails beautiful.
Another group that is highly invested in connecting trails is the Industrial Heartland Trails Coalition. This is a group of supporters and builders that focus on connecting trails from New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, and West Virginia. Members range anywhere from the government all the way to land managers. The main goal of this organization is to make rail expansion a “regional priority.” Currently, they connect 48 counties and they want to continue this progression.
Before the trails were popular attractions for walking and biking, they were part of the oldest railroad system in the country, the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad. In 1996, the trails around Morgantown were converted into non-motorized trail systems.
Other than recreational benefits, rail trails have a huge impact on the health and wellbeing of the community. According to the Rails To Trails Conservancy website, the trails create an alternative and eco-friendly environment for people of all ages to enjoy.
“The Mon River Trail was my favorite to ride on,” said Vernon Jones, a 2016 alumnus of West Virginia University and avid trail user. “I like it not only because it was nice and flat, but also because of the scenery.”
Jones enjoyed sights such as the World War II Memorial in Star City, but there were things he would like to see improved on the trail.
“Adding more restrooms and water fountains would be beneficial,” said Jones. “The only other thing I dislike about the trail is that it’s one straight line versus a trail that loops around itself. So, no matter how far you go you’ll always have to travel the same exact distance back.”
Expansion of the trails around Morgantown could mean a number of things. The most obvious being that this would allow for more recreational opportunities. Bikers, runners, pet owners, and anybody else who wants to spend their spare time on the trail would be able to go further than they could before. However, trail expansion also enhances communities economically.
The RTC reports, “Design, engineering and construction of walking and bicycling facilities such as trails create more jobs per dollar than any other type of transportation infrastructure construction.”
In a college town like Morgantown, rail trail expansion could help immensely in these types of situations. While many students have cars, there are just as many, if not more, that don’t have them. If there were a simpler way to get around town that didn’t include walking or depending on public transportation, this could help boost the economy drastically.
Ella Belling has seen firsthand what trail expansion can do for an area. Belling is the director for the Mon River Trails Conservancy.
“It’s good for startup businesses for outfitters and restaurants,” Belling said. “Lodging along the trail, camping along the trails. All of these things help fund the economic development for communities.”
According to Belling, not only does it bring in business attractions, the trail also hosts festivals and bike riding events. It’s a popular attraction in the area.
One of the businesses that has benefited from being near The Mon-River Trail is Apple Annie’s in Point Marion. Apple Annie’s serves homemade foods and desserts, and has a cozy charm that makes it the perfect place to stop for any cyclists after a long ride.
“Sometimes they (the bikers) discover us by happy accident, sometimes they know we’re here and we’re the end goal for them,” said Peter Padula, Owner of Apple Annie’s.
Padula would like to see the trail continue through Pennsylvania, and he believes that if all the local businesses in town got together they could help make it happen.
Text, video and graphics by Kelly Lemasters