MORGANTOWN -- The vision behind the bill creating the Mountaineer Trail Network Authority was a series of multi-county trail networks crisscrossing West Virginia.\r\n\r\nThe reality is it\u2019s going to take quite a bit of peddling to get there.\r\n\r\nSenate Bill 317, signed into law by Governor Jim Justice earlier this year, allows three or more adjacent counties to form a multi-county mountain biking trail network authority. It also specifically created the Mountaineer Trail Network Recreation Authority serving Barbour, Grant, Harrison, Marion, Mineral, Monongalia, Preston, Randolph, Taylor and Tucker counties.\r\n\r\nMonongalia County Commissioner Ed Hawkins explained that he attended a meeting earlier this week hosted by Preston County and Friends of the Cheat to begin that process.\r\n\r\nHawkins said the county commissions of the participating counties need to nominate two people to serve on the authority.\r\n\r\n\u201cThat would allow a meeting to be held to discuss and write bylaws. Once the bylaws are written, the body could apply for 501(c)(3) status so that we could begin to market this,\u201d Hawkins said, explaining that in the beginning, letting people know what\u2019s already available is critical.\r\n\r\n\u201cThat\u2019s going to be the key element in the beginning. This is a marketing item to try to get recognition for what we already have. Then, hopefully in time, you\u2019ll start to see some connectivity with this. That would be a goal,\u201d he said.\r\n\r\nFriends of the Cheat recently used $50,000 in grant funding from the Appalachian Regional Commission\u2019s POWER Initiative to hire environmental and economic development consulting firm Downstream Strategies.\r\n\r\nJoey James, of Downstream Strategies, explained the firm was brought in to develop a plan for implementing the Mountaineer Trail Network in Preston County and, eventually, across North Central West Virginia.\r\n\r\nThat plan will consider a number of issues, including legal questions regarding participating land owners, assessments of demographics and local economic factors, environmental conditions and cultural resources, infrastructure and routes assessments.\r\n\r\nAlong with providing specific answers to Preston County, the effort will provide a scalable template for other counties to follow.\r\n\r\n\u201cOur hope is that our plan will, more or less, tee the regional trail system project up for implementation,\u201d James explained. \u201cThe ultimate goal is to not only develop a regional trail system, but also the businesses associated with making North Central West Virginia a regional outdoor recreation destination.\u201d\r\n\r\nHe went on to say that once Downstream Strategies has the Preston County data in hand, the parties will seek additional POWER grant dollars, likely in the millions, to make it a reality.\r\n\r\nIn the meantime, Hawkins said, counties are going to have to inventory what they've got \u2014 which may very well be more than they know.\r\n\r\n\u201cThis is going to create a group to go after funding to extend and connect trails, but first of all let\u2019s start bringing people to the trails we have,\u201d he said. \u201cI had a GIS mapping done of the trails and, honestly, there are all these places on the map that already exist that I didn\u2019t know anything about.\u201d\r\n\r\nThe purpose of the Technical Assistance and Planning Grant from the Appalachian Regional Commission's POWER \u2014 Partnerships for Opportunity and Workforce and Economic Revitalization \u2014 Initiative is to assist coal-impacted communities and regions with plans and strategies to transform their local economies.