Network joins more than 30 systems across country with honor
When a pandemic falls upon the land, what you do?
Hit the trail.
As in the nationally recognized Mon River Rail-Trail system, which cuts wide swaths through Monongalia and Preston counties.
Since March, when COVID-19 changed the way people work and play in north-central West Virginia, use of the trail has been a constant, Ella Belling said.
Belling is executive director of Mon River Trails Conservancy, which oversees management and maintenance of the 48-mile network, which was carved out in 1998 in place of the rails where coal trains used to travel.
These days, the sojourners aren’t giant engines and clanging coal cars.
Feet swaddled in running shoes and hiking boots set the pace now, along with baby carriages and bicycles.
That was true on a brisk autumn Monday when people laced up their walking shoes and leaned over their handlebars for a saunter or a cruise.
For years, the Mon trail’s most heavily traveled stretch was through Morgantown’s Wharf District, with its restaurants and warehouses turned into professional buildings.
While traffic there dwindled as the pandemic moved in, Belling said, more remote areas along the network are enjoying renewed popularity.
“We have counters along the trail, and in some areas the usage has doubled or tripled,” she said.
If people are literally voting with their feet, so too were the national watchers of such networks over the summer.
That’s when Mon’s trail system was named to the Hall of Fame of the national Rails-to-Trails Conservancy.
The conservancy is a Washington, D.C. nonprofit that celebrates such organic thoroughfares where motorized vehicles aren’t allowed.
Mon’s network joined more than 30 more iconic trail systems across the country with the honor.
Look for the placement of official Hall of Fame signage along the Mon trail in future weeks, Belling said.
And in the meantime, she’ll continue managing the grants and doing all the other things that keep the trail from not becoming static.
COVID-19 or no, she said, that’s still essential work.
And that’s the work that consumers of the trail don’t see, she said.
“People take us for granted — and that’s a good thing.”
Visit http://montrails. org for more information on the trail and its activities.