MORGANTOWN — A bill (HB 4431) clearing the way for a new mountain biking trail network in Monongalia County and beyond came about a day short of clearing the state Legislature during its last regular session.
Now, as legislators prepare to head back to Charleston, proponents of the Mountaineer Trail Network are working to ensure the enabling legislation clears all hurdles this time around.
Outgoing Delegate Joe Statler, R-Monongalia, addressed the topic during Wednesday’s Monongalia County Commission meeting, as did FEOH Realty founder Jason Donahue.
Donahue previously helped push similar legislation while working as the economic development director in Logan County. Those efforts led to the creation of the Hatfield-McCoy Trail System.
The commission assured the pair that it is still very much in support of the initiative and will reach out to surrounding counties about backing the bill during the upcoming session.
“Last year this bill made it through the House and it made it through the Senate. It passed both houses of the Legislature. It simply didn’t get reconciled between the two because, as Joe pointed out, there were some, in my humble opinion, not meaningful revisions on the Senate side,” Donahue said, crediting Statler for his efforts in pushing the bill along.
“From my understanding, it got down to how the bill was titled … Literally the attorneys were working out the details. There was no reason it couldn’t go forward. To say it got close was an understatement. It was the last night. If we had one more day, it probably would have been fine.”
Legislative approval is necessary in order to protect private property owners who allow the trail to cut through their land.
Statler said that unlike the last go-round, this time the bill will be introduced on the Senate side. He said the initial bill started picking up steam once he was teamed up with an attorney with Senate judiciary.
“She called over the summer and said she’s met with some groups and she was very much letting me know that she wanted to see this move, so when you have someone that enthusiastic, you put the bill in their hands to start moving it,” Statler said.
He went on to say that he’s already spoken with likely Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Charles Trump, R- Morgan, about the bill. Statler noted that it was in the Senate Judiciary Committee that the first bill was bogged down with amendments.
According to Donahue, mountain biking is among the most popular and most lucrative outdoor recreation activities. He said Oregon’s economy sees about $400 million in mountain biking tourism every year.
“The idea behind this is to have these trails right in the middle of town. Right in the middle of people. Not in the middle of nowhere, but right here so it’s easy for people to come in,” Donahue said, noting he’s already spoken with property owners representing thousands of acres near major economic centers.
“What it really comes down to, this is an economic development deal, and that is the most important reason to do it. It’s not just health and wellness. That is a benefit, but it’s about increasing revenue for our communities and our state.”
It was explained that the mountain biking trail network, which Donahue described as a dirt trail, will not tie directly into the rail-trail system.