appalachia mountains

OAK HILL — City council voted Monday to authorize purchase of an approximately 1-mile section of rail right-of-way from Norfolk Southern Railroad that would extend the length of the White Oak Rail Trail.

If the purchase eventually occurs, the extension would increase the trail from its current northern end to the vicinity of Lochgelly Road.

During council's regular monthly meeting Monday, Bill Wells, president of the New River Gorge Trail Alliance, told council and Mayor Danny Wright the purchase would also be a critical component of a regional hiking and biking trail plan envisioned by the alliance, as well as being of significant economic benefit to the city. The NRGTA is "dedicated to building a regional trail system," Wells said.

An Appalachian Regional Commission grant of $1 million boosted the plan that calls for a network to run from Tamarack in Beckley to Richwood. The state Division of Highways has committed a $300,000 match, according to Wells, and the local trail alliance has provided $100,000 of in-kind contributions and volunteer labor.

The regional trail would be a combination of new construction and share-the-road trails. Under the proposed trail route, Wells said, the Paint Creek share-the-road trail will be used from Tamarack. Hopefully, a right-of-way being sought near Plum Orchard Lake could tie into the White Oak Rail Trail at Carlisle and follow the existing trail to its current terminus at Summerlee Road, Wells said.

Under the potential acquisition from Norfolk Southern, the White Oak Rail Trail's termination point would move to Lochgelly Road. That could then lead to Wolf Creek Park between Fayetteville and Oak Hill.

"We have plans to build 8 miles of mountain bike trail there," Wells said of Wolf Creek Park, a 1,000-acre mixed-use development which is owned and managed by the Fayette County Urban Renewal Authority. So far, a great deal of progress has been made by numerous local volunteers who have cleared a "significant portion" of the land necessary for the single-track mountain bike trail. "Great community support" has been a valuable resource, Wells said.

From Wolf Creek, the regional trail would split, with one side veering toward Fayetteville and the other to Needleseye Park en route to ACE Adventure Resort and down into the New River Gorge.

Attorney Phil Tissue has been discussing the project with Norfolk Southern. "We have an opportunity to acquire that (1-mile segment), which will jump start this project," said Wells. "We have funding to do the design and construction of that piece."

If Oak Hill ultimately makes the purchase, the project could be put on a "fast track," accelerating the pace possibly by a year, according to Wells.

An audience member said he didn't oppose the general concept of the rail trail but asked how the potential purchase will benefit the city.

The importance of a regional trail system can't be overlooked, Wells stressed. "It would bring in a lot of revenue; (in) a regional trail system, people come from all over the country to ride it," whereas local trail systems of shorter length have a more limited utilization.

"If we can acquire this piece, it really turns loose the design and construction to go into Fayetteville," Wells said. "It's a key piece."

City Manager Bill Hannabass recommended the governing board address the issue in executive session because it involved discussing financial negotiations. After an executive session during which Hannabass said a price range was discussed by council for negotiation with Norfolk Southern Railroad, the meeting was reconvened, and council voted unanimously to authorize purchase. The price range was not disclosed.

"The trail alliance is very appreciative of Oak Hill working with us," said Wells, who added that the resulting economic benefits and opportunities for recreation would be a positive for Oak Hill and the surrounding community.

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The New River Gorge Trail Alliance is a 501(c)3 organization which promotes the health and well-being of the area by building and maintaining a regional trail system.

Annual membership fees are $15 for individuals, $25 for families and $100 to $500 for corporate, size-dependent.

For more information or to become a member, visit nrgta.org.

Email: skeenan@register-herald.com or follow on Twitter @gb_scribe

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