Paths to Success - Mon River Trails System
Morgantown Dominion Post
8 March 2015
By Katie McDowell
For Ella Belling, executive director of Mon River Trails
Conservancy (MRTC), Morgantown just wouldn’t be Morgantown without
its trail system.
So she couldn’t have been happier, she said, when the national
Rail-To-Trails Conservancy (RTC) highlighted the area’s 48 miles
of trail as its Trail of the Month for February.
“National press coverage will bring more travelers to explore our
rail-trails and enjoy the communities along them,” she said in a
recent release. “This honor verifies what locals already know, how
this rail-trail is great for outdoor recreation and our trail
towns are fun places to stay and enjoy the music scene, dine in
unique restaurants and discover local attractions.”
Sitting down with The Dominion Post, Belling explained MRTC is the
501(c)3 nonprofit agency tasked with purchases, building,
construction, upkeep and amenities along the trails. All 48 miles
The first stretches of trail were purchased in the early 1990s.
Since then, through volunteer work and fundraising, the
organization has built it into a true destination, Belling said.
They are now working to connect portions of town more easily to
the trail. For instance, they are working with the City of
Morgantown to fund a bridge, allowing South Park and Greenmont
residents easier access to the Deckers Creek Trail.
“Construction on that will hopefully start this year,” she said.
While some of the project is funded by grants secured by the city,
MRTC must augment those funds with fundraising. The organization
is working with the South Park and Greenmont neighborhood
associations to that end.
They’ve also submitted grants for a Collins Ferry Road link, she
A national event — a three-day cycling sojourn, with more than 100
cyclists participating — is also on the horizon, she said. Aside
from highlighting the Mon River Trails System as a whole, it will
specifically offer an opportunity to bring attention to link with
Pennsylvania’s Sheepskin Trail, into Point Marion, Pa.
“It’s fun, but meaningful, work,” she said.
While many Morgantown residents may identify the rail-trail with
the stretch that travels through Hazel Ruby McQuain Park — with
its amphitheater and cherry blossom trees — the system itself is
actually a combination of urban and rural trails. Some portions of
the trail, such as the Caperton, are paved, while others, such as
the Deckers Creek Trail and Mon River South Trail, are covered
with crushed stone or limestone.
That makes the trail system the perfect way to experience the
region’s urban and rural areas, Belling said.
The more urban parts of the trail work to connect neighborhoods,
city parks, shopping areas and restaurants, “without getting in
the car,” she said.
The rural portions offer a chance to get away from the hustle and
bustle, and rather enjoy the natural beauty the region has to
But whichever portion each resident prefers, both have brought
tons of change to the community, she said.
“Certainly its brought in tourism dollars,” she said. “It’s
revived the riverfronts considerably — we’ve seen them transition
from abandoned warehouses to restaurants and shops. It’s a
commuter network for a lot of people, not just a place for
Of course, however, the leisure factor — and the health factor —
can’t be overstated for many.
One of those trail enthusiasts is Bill Reger-Nash, professor
emeritus, WVU School of Public Health and associate chair of the
Morgantown Pedestrian Safety Board.
“The trail system in the Morgantown area is one of our most
valuable assets for the region,” he said. “Just recently, I had a
conversation with a new WVU administrator who said that the local
rail-trail system sets the Morgantown community above so many
others throughout the nation.”
Reger-Nash himself used the rail-trail daily as a way to commute
to and from work.
“I used the rail trail for more than 10 years daily to commute to
work from Stewartstown to the WVU Health Sciences Center. My
commute took me through Point Marion and along the old rail bed to
the West Virginia border. I would then pick up the rail trail and
cycle through the WVU Arboretum and proceed to the Health Sciences
Center. The 70-minute commute was energizing. The Mon River rail
trail offers a scenic opportunity to safely commute, all the while
enhancing fitness, helping control body weight, promoting serenity
and sparing the use of fossil fuels. One arrives at work refreshed
and finishes work in a way that the stressors of the day
In that way, it serves not only as a leisure activity, but a key
to better health across the community as a whole.
“From the public health standpoint, Dr. Sam Zizzi and his WVU
colleagues ascertained that 23 percent of trail users were new
exercisers,” Reger-Nash pointed out. “We do what the environment
enables and reinforces. The trail ‘calls’ to people to enjoy the
outdoors in a nurturing setting.”
To that end, MRTC is always working to add new amenities and
facilities along the trails — such as restrooms, maps and signs. A
new restroom will be opening soon at the trail head at the end of
Van Voorhis Road, Belling said. Another has just recently opened
in Masontown, along the Deckers Creek Trail.
Dave Harshbarger, wellness manager of the Ornish Program at WVU,
not only sits on the board of directors for MRTC, and also serves
as a volunteer — he’s also a regular trail user himself.
“I have been a board member for about 10 years and have been a
regular user since it was built. Living only a half mile from
entrance points in Marilla Park, my family and I used it regularly
when they were small and getting pulled on tag along bikes. We use
it recreationally for jogging, biking, cross country skiing and
also use it times for commuting to and from work.”
For families to find the trail a safe, well-maintained place to
enjoy time together is one of the reasons Belling and all of the
MRTC volunteers work so hard, Belling said.
In fact, it’s almost as though the better they’re doing at
maintaining the trail, the less people notice, because they’re
free to notice everything else around them, rather than the state
of the trail itself.
And, Belling said, the better the trail, the better the area.
“The longer the trail system is, the more economic development you
see, the more tourism you get,” she said. “That’s the point of
looking forward to 150 miles of trail, instead of just 50.”
An avid cyclist, Reger-Nash probably wouldn’t argue with that
“We can walk and bike along the trail, enjoying Decker's Creek,
the Mon River all the while conversing with friends and family.
Thus, the rail trail promotes family bonds and general
collegiality,” he said. “... Riding on the trails permits riders
to enjoy the wonderful local scenery. I have bicycled in Europe,
Canada, Australia, New Zealand and Asia. No biking trails are more
scenic than we have locally on the way up to Preston County and
along the Mon River.”