Rail-Trail sets goal to complete gaps between Parkersburg and Pittsburgh

BRIDGEPORT — The Rails-to-Trails Conservancy has set an ambitious goal of 10 years to complete the gaps that currently exist in the Parkersburg to Pittsburgh Rail-Trail Corridor.

“We are saying that we are going to make sure the P2P (Parkersburg to Pittsburgh) is the first IHTC (Industrial Heartland Trails Coalition) corridor complete in the entire system,” said Kent Spellman, a consultant for the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy.

On Tuesday, the Rail-Trail Conservancy presented the results of its feasibility study for the project to local government members, state legislators, commerce groups and a variety of local trail groups in Bridgeport.

“The feasibility study provides us with a road map for completing this rail-trail corridor in the next 10 years,” said Kelly Pack, trail development director for the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy.

“It includes things like studies of trails that are already bringing in those tourism dollars, and helping to understand the benefits the trails have and bringing those things into communities. It also lays out some examples of where (growth) has happened before.”

Kevin Bellanger, a trail planner for the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy, emphasized that the feasibility study is just one step in the long planning process for the trail system.

The Parkersburg to Pittsburgh Rail-Trail will connect to the overall, 1,500-mile trail network that the IHTC is planning through West Virginia, Pennsylvania, Ohio and New York.

Currently, there are four gaps in the West Virginia stretch of the trail, which, when completed, will stretch 150 miles from Parkersburg to the West Virginia-Pennsylvania state border, just north of Morgantown.

The first gap is 5.2 miles long at the end of the North Bend Rail-Trail just outside of Parkersburg. The second gap is the longest, at 7 miles, and would connect the opposite end of the North Bend Rail-Trail to the Harrison North Rail-Trail, near Clarksburg. The third gap would connect the 5.3 miles that exist between the Harrison North Rail-Trail and the West Fork River-Trail in Shinnston.

While the final gap runs just 4.6 miles through Fairmont, it would connect the West Fork River-Trail to the southern end of the Mon River Trail.

“(The study) also goes step-by-step through each of the gaps, including what it will take to close the gaps, and how much it’s going to cost,” Pack said. “It then provides an action plan, county-by-county, and it takes a step-by-step approach for completing those gaps by acquiring the corridors, all the way to programming and promoting the trails.”

As for the cost, the study provides a low estimate of $8,717,441 and a high estimate of $26,343,372 to construct the new trails to fill the gaps.

The study also recommends upgrades to the five existing trails, which would bring the low and high estimates up to $12,427,253 and $38,944,485, respectively.

The total cost-breakdown by county is:

  • Monongalia County: $1,452,076 to $3,731,582
  • Marion County: $4,733,533 to $13,209,055
  • Harrison County: $4,423,154 to $11,937,622
  • Doddridge County: $169,876 to $835,996
  • Ritchie County: $239,984 to $2,654,661
  • Wood County: $1,408,630 to $6,575,570

Pack said about a quarter-million people use the Mon River Trail annually, with about 20 percent of those users from outside the Morgantown area.

Pack mentioned the Great Allegheny Passage trail, which stretches from Pittsburgh to Washington, D.C., when referring to how the larger trail system can economically impact a region.

“With a $6 million annual economic impact, the Mon River trail system really stands to benefit from the completion of this corridor because it will unlock the potential of a true long-distance trail, like the Great Allegheny Passage, bringing more tourists and dollars to communities like Morgantown,” Pack said.

She said the Great Allegheny Passage provides $40 million of annual economic impact to the areas it runs through.

“Initial investment to build that trail has a similar story to the P2P,” Pack said.

“Several trails were being developed over the decade, and then a really concerted effort was made by state government to invest and close the gaps within that system. Now they’re seeing more than a million users a year, and more than $40 million annually going to those communities.”

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