Friends of the Cheat applies for grant to build a rail trail

KINGWOOD  —Friends of the Cheat (FOC) is applying for a $3 million grant to build a rail trail along the Cheat River.

If approved, the Abandoned Mine Lands (AML) grant will also include converting the former railroad bridge at the old Patriot Mine cleaning plant to foot traffic, money for two-year internships and grants to help the  AML-impacted towns of Kingwood, Rowlesburg and Tunnelton.

“This is an exciting proposal we have in the works,” said Amanda Pitzer, executive director of FOC.

The federally funded program is aimed at spurring economic development in AML impacted areas. Friends of the Cheat wants to build 8.5 miles of trail along the Cheat River, from Manheim toward Kingwood.

“The sweetener in this …  is the programming that comes with this money,”  Pitzer said. “So not only are we trying to build a trail, but we’re trying to work with our trail communities — Kingwood, Rowlesburg, Tunnelton, and then potentially Albright, if they are interested.”

Experts would be brought into small towns to work on business development and research, marketing and connecting the towns with the trails.

Minigrants would be available to businesses and communities up to $25,000 per year. Two-year internships are also in the proposal.

The plan is modeled on the Great Allegheny Passage trail, which runs through rural towns in Pennsylvania.

FOC already owns the bridge, “and that’s kind of going to be the hub where everything starts.” The group also has a $300,000 grant to do trail design.

“That trail along the river is exciting to me,” Commissioner Dave Price said. Commissioner Don Smith said he has jogged the area, and it is, “a very nice trail.” Commissioner Craig Jennings said the bridge is also pretty.

Pitzer said 14 other letters of support have been obtained and more are being sought. Commissioners agreed to write a letter.

Inevitably, the talk also turned to roads and the condition of W.Va. 72. Pitzer said two recent river paddles, at Rowlesburg and Parsons, brought many comments from participants about the condition of the roads.

Commissioners asked her to write a letter, including the comments, which they can forward to the State Division of Highways (DOH).

The grant proposal is due the end of the month to the AML pilot program. The State Department of Environmental Protection makes recommendations on grant awards to the federal Office of Surface Mining. This is the second time FOC has applied for the grant, Pitzer said.

Also at Monday’s meeting, commissioners:

  • agreed to send a letter to the DOH, requesting the speed limit be lowered from 55 mph to 45 mph on W.Va. 7 from the Kingwood city limits to the intersection with Dogtown Road.
  • Jennings said perhaps the sheriff could have officers patrol the area after the change to remind people of the new speed. He suggested warnings only be given at first.
  • approved two new part-time telecommunicators for 911. Chelsea Cress and Travis Dyer will start June 18 at $13 per hour.
  • were told by Smith that Peggy Pase has expressed interest in taking her late brother Mike’s spot on the Preston County Solid Waste Authority Board.
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