FAYETTEVILLE — Commissioner Tom Louisos on Friday presented a proposal to the county commission to expand the county’s involvement in trails development.
“I would like to see the commission work on county trail development,” he said.
“I would like to see it be a countywide trail development, working to build approximately 200 miles of on- and off-road bike trails that loop back into the municipalities, trails that go from municipality to municipality, trails that lead to other recreational hot spots that will give options for family-type bike rides to high-adventure enthusiasts the opportunity to spend three, four or five days biking, hiking along with other adventures in our county; from municipality to adventure or adventure from fishing, to trail overlooks throughout our county, routing trails to multiple places of all sorts of outdoor recreation. Maybe even having multiple county bike races throughout the year,” he said.
Louisos said he would like to see the trail development start “as soon as possible, working year-round for the next five years, or until the connection throughout the county is complete.”
He suggested purchasing signage to label approximately 60 miles of share-the-road biking and working for the first six months of the five-year period in Wolf Creek Park before moving on to work on trail development in Fayette County Park for six months.
“Then moving the trail development into the Valley, connecting to the projected River Cities trail development, extending the trail on both sides of the (Kanawha and New rivers) from the Montgomery side toward Fayette County Park, Oak Hill and Mount Hope, and on the Smithers side toward Gauley Bridge and Ansted and connecting the county loop through towns and municipalities,” he said.
Louisos was widely praised for the expansive idea, but questioned when it came to his ideas for funding the program.
“All the proposed funding sources and restructuring to this development will have to be worked out in workshops even if the proposals might not be able to be worked out, but all will be brought to the agenda for discussion and approval or denial by the commission.
“I want to use $140,000 … to purchase signs to label approximately 60 miles of share-the-road trails, support the Trail Alliance with a mini-excavator, then hiring an excavator operator for the first 12 months of development, maintenance and fuel for 12 months. Details to be worked out for the future. The remainder of the capital would be put into a recreational development fund account to be utilized for recreational developments and recreational grants,” he said.
Representatives of the New River Gorge Trail Alliance and members of the Fayette County Urban Renewal Authority expressed their concern about taking funds already allocated for completing bike trails under construction for years at Wolf Creek Park and starting over, as it were. The commission voted on Nov. 22 to release funds from the URA for completion of construction on the trails at Wolf Creek Park.
“I applaud your vision,” Jeff Proctor, a member of the URA, said after Louisos completed his presentation. “… I think it’s marvelous (but) there’s three years of sweat and labor already put into the development of the Wolf Creek Park trails. We need to finish this project and we need to have a plan to spread it on,” he said.
“There’s opportunities, but we have a bird in the hand.”
Local bike shop owner Andy Forron, a member of the NRGTA, also said the Wolf Creek trails should be finished first before embarking on the larger countywide project.
“We need to build trail. The first step is to finish Wolf Creek,” he said.
“All this planning stuff, it’s done. We need to finish the trails first. That stuff’s been done. All we need to do is finish trails. We can start something else after we finish this. We don’t want a bunch of half-finished trails out there.
“Let’s just get this done. There’s enough drive and enough people to get this done.”
Volunteers have been working over the past three years to construct nearly 20 miles of biking/hiking trails at Wolf Creek Park to enhance its desirability as a “Live, Learn, Work and Play Community.”
Gene Kistler, also a member of the URA, pointed out that Fayette County boasts a 30-year trail community and agreed that he was impressed with Louisos’ idea.
“To sit here this morning and hear you, that is just great. I agree with you 100 percent.
“I think the way to look at (the Wolf Creek project) is as a shakedown pilot project for a countywide initiative. Right now it’s a good idea, but the devil’s in the details.
“We can just wrap up (the Wolf Creek project) and I want to meet with you, Tom, and a bunch of people and really start fleshing out the details on this proposal of yours. I think working together with Tom and a committee is just super exciting. It’s all about the future,” Kistler said.
“If this can come together, this would get us national attention. This would be the biggest trail initiative outside the National Park and the Boy Scouts that’s ever occurred here,” he said.
Denise Scalph, commission president, joined the majority consensus, although the commission took no vote on Louisos’ proposal.
“You guys have worked long and hard … in putting together a plan,” she told members of the trail community present.
“We need to show completion, in my opinion, on what we’ve already said we’re going to do. The stars are being aligned in Fayette County.”
Commissioner John Brenemen also expressed his gratitude to the trail community.
“I thank you,” he said. “I applaud you.”
Sharon Cruikshank, mayor of Fayetteville, spoke up to pledge that community’s support of the expansion of the trail system.
“Certainly Fayetteville is very interested in the trails and continuing that work,” she said and added that although she is no longer director of the Fayette County Chamber of Commerce or the New River CVB, she knows both groups are ready and willing to be of help.
Proctor said the area is “growing into a biking mecca. We’re on the cusp of attracting economic development” related to the expanding trails system.
Also included in Louisos’ proposal was the plan “to add details to the trail development, structures like restrooms, picnic and overlook areas in key places throughout.”
Although no formal action was taken on the proposal, the general consensus of the commission was that it will be addressed with a committee of stakeholders in the future.
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