By C.V. Moore
One day, the National Park Service hopes it will be possible to follow a trail through the New River Gorge National River from Hinton to Hawks Nest and then back again on the other side of the river.
Realizing the full dream will mean overcoming significant challenges like land acquisition and funding, but the first phase of that plan is now on the table for public comment through April 5.
NPS hosted an open house Thursday to explain the “Through Park Connector; Northern Half; River Left” plan to citizens.
It would build several new trails and connectors to create one continuous path from Raleigh County Memorial Airport almost to the northern edge of the park, north of Fayetteville.
“People are jazzed about the park building more trails, so I’m expecting that people will come in with other ideas about other trails that we could be building,” said Jamie Fields, a park planner at New River Gorge National River, who was posted at Canyon Rim Visitors Center Thursday to field questions from the public.
And indeed, one nearby property owner wanted to talk about building trails that would showcase beautiful waterfalls along Wolf Creek. Another loves the proposed bike use, but hopes some more signage will increase safety for hikers who also use the trails.
Representatives from the Boy Scouts of America also showed up to discuss with park officials how the new trails could affect their future plans to provide Scouts access to hiking and river recreation from their adjacent property.
A lot of the trails that will eventually make up the Through Park Connector already exist. The new trails in this plan — which range from approximately 0.3 mile to 3 miles — would fill in the holes.
The complete route would go something like this:
— The Piney Creek Watershed Association, the airport, Raleigh County Cycle Club and Raleigh County are working together to build a trail through the Piney Creek Gorge to connect the airport with the park boundary. NPS would construct the Piney Creek Trail (approximately one-half mile) from there to the McCreery Trailhead; a CSX railroad crossing has yet to be finalized.
— The proposed McCreery Trail (approximately 1 mile) connects McCreery to Terry; NPS is working with CSX on securing a section of abandoned rail bed.
— From Terry, hikers and bikers would get on the Garden Ground Stack Loop Trail — not yet built — and either take that to the Stone Cliff Trail, which would involve a steep and expensive series of switchbacks, or perhaps work with the Boy Scouts of America to use a piece of their property to connect to a new trail, Camp Creek Trail (approximately 2 miles).
— Camp Creek would connect to the Rend Trail head and offer better access to the Sewell Knob hunting area.
— From Rend, head toward Minden and take the Arbuckle Connector Trail, which would be improved for bike use in this plan, to the Southside Trail. At that point you’d either pop out at Cunard and come up the road or use a newly built Brooklyn Miner’s Trail — approved in a 2011 plan but not yet built — up to the mine bench and get on the Brooklyn Mine Trail.
— Crossing Cunard Road, you’d get onto Kaymoor Trail to Fayette Station Road. A few yards away, you’d join Fayetteville Trail and follow for about a third of a mile.
— The proposed Whitney Trail (approximately 3 miles) — named for the Whitney mines — would connect Fayetteville Trail to Pipers Branch Trail (approximately one-half mile) along existing mine roads and benches to the park boundary. There, through a verbal agreement between the park and the BSA, users could access W.Va. 16.
In addition, a new Wolf Creek Trail (approximately one-half mile) would connect Fayette Station Road to Kaymoor Trail.
All these new trails are proposed for bike use, though they would have to go through a special regulation process to formally allow bikes.
Separate from the through-park trail, the plan provides for a Bridge Buttress Trail Extension to improve access from a proposed climber-friendly private campground in the Burnwood area to the Bridge Area Crags.
NPS expects that at least some of the new trails will be built this summer by volunteer Boy Scouts. The maintenance division is still deciding how much of the plan will be accomplished this summer.
Though Fields says that a ballpark figure for completion of phase one would be three years, the park is still figuring out how recent federal budget cuts are going to affect the park’s capacity to build and maintain trails in the long term.
“Especially with budget cuts, we need to regroup to understand what our capacity and land ownership is to see what trails would be included in phase two, three and on into the future,” she said.
About a dozen locals came out to the open house.
The plan can be downloaded by going to http://www.nps.gov/neri. To comment online, select “Management,” then “Park Planning,” then “Trail Development Plan - Phase One,” then “Document List,” or “Open for Comment.”
The only two alternatives are no action and moving forward with the phase one plan, as described above, but there is an opportunity to provide comments on the plan.
Comments are due April 5.