Local Rail-Trail Still on Track Thanks to Volunteers

Morgantown Dominion Post
26 January 2014
By Anita Mayer

FOR OPPORTUNITIES to volunteer, go to http://montrails.org or contact Ella Belling, MRTC executive director, at ella@montrails.org, or call 304-692-6782.

Tom Talerico, in his column (DP-Monday), wonders if the Mon River Trails Conservancy (MRTC) and the Board of Park and Recreation Commissioners (BOPARC) “... has ever given much thought about how much better it could be ...”

The answer is simple: Yes! Every second Thursday of the month, at 5:15 p.m. at the Star City municipal building (second floor), the MRTC board meets to discuss the continuing development and maintenance of the rail-trail, and how to pay for it all.

The meetings are open to the public and comments are welcome. This information is on our website at http://montrails.org or just do an Internet search for MRTC WV.

The city of Morgantown and BOPARC have partnered with the all-volunteer board of directors and our director, since the inception of the “rails to trails” in the early 1990s. It is always a process and one cannot stress enough the wisdom of crowds.

For example, the city of Morgantown, working collaboratively with community groups such as Sunnyside Up, MRTC and the Northern Brownfield Center, is submitting for funding an EPA Brownfields community-wide hazardous assessment grant to develop plans for several properties located along the rail-trails.

This funding from the EPA would help inventory and remediate these sites, bringing them back into useable properties for future development.

In addition, Morgantown, BOPARC, Star City and MRTC are working on several projects to develop neighborhood-to-trail connectors including a bridge to connect Greenmont and South Park, a connector path from the Caperton Trail to Star City’s River Landing shopping plaza, and a formal path from the end of Collins Ferry Road to the Mon River Trail.

Trail users have requested more restrooms on the outskirts of Morgantown and Star City. MRTC is working on two restroom facilities and increasing parking in Masontown on the Deckers Creek Trail and at the end of Van Voorhis Road on the Mon River Trail. You will see significant changes at these locations this year. We also anticipate seeing the start of construction of the Sheepskin Trail from the West Virginia state line into Point Marion, Pa., by the end of this year.

In Preston County, nonprofit organization Friends of the Cheat has been actively working on rail-trail development. You can learn more about these rail-trail initiatives at sheepskintrail.org and cheat.org.

We have interchangeable natural and cultural history interpretative signs at seven trailheads that are changed out seasonally. They focus on spring and fall wildflowers, songbird migrations, river ecology and history, railroad and rail-trail history, among other topics.

We are always adding benches, with the latest five installed in November as an Eagle Scout project by Nick Blumish, with Troop 77.

The mile markers, which start at the Pennsylvania/West Virginia state line, were strategically considered and installed following the direction of 911 Homeland Security Emergency Management in order for there to be fast, efficient responses in cases of emergency.

Besides communication with MRTC via our website or meetings, there are other opportunities to provide public comment and get involved in making trail wishes into realities: Main Street Morgantown is working on a signage plan, which includes ways to better connect the downtown with the rail-trail.

The Mon River Town Program (http://monrivertowns.com) is meeting in Granville, Star City and Morgantown to discuss improvements to our river and rail-trail, whether this is an increase in amenities or access. Public input is being requested at the Monongalia-Morgantown Metropolitan Planning Organization’s Bicycle Plan Open House, scheduled for Thursday, at the Public Safety Building.

For example, an undercut on the Deckers Creek Trail is estimated to cost more than $150,000.

Routine maintenance requires heavy equipment that wears out. Last year, our sidearm boom mower with brush hog and flail arm attachment had to be replaced ($60,000). We are purchasing a dump truck in 2014 ($70,000) to help with chronic landslides along the trail.

MRTC has been successful in getting federal grants to help pay for these costs but federal funding covers 80 percent of the expenditures (usually with no administrative or office overhead expenses allowed). So MRTC has to raise additional funds.

The city of Morgantown, the Monongalia and Marion county commissions, private foundations, donors and members have helped provide matching funds and for funding for routine maintenance staff.

ANITA MAYER is president of the Mon River Trails Conservancy. This commentary should be considered another point of view and not necessarily the opinion or editorial policy of The Dominion Post. Maintaining the railtrails is an ongoing and expensive challenge.