Plans Revealed for Great American Rail-Trail
The 3,700-mile Great American Rail-Trail is going to pass through West Virginia’s Northern Panhandle, cut across the Market Street Bridge and then traverse Jefferson County, organizers revealed Wednesday.
“It is good to see the potential of a trail to cross this county, much like the railroads did in the past,” said Aaron Dodds, Cross Creek and Yellow Creek watershed coordinator for the Jefferson Soil and Water Conservation District. “The railroads and the people who constructed them built this county and region into what it is today, so to perpetuate their vision by blending the railroad and quality-of-life improvements not only furthers their vision but preserves our heritage.”
The Great American Rail Trail will begin in Washington, D.C., and pass through 12 states before ending in Seattle. It will be a multi-use trail, “completely separated from vehicle traffic,” national leaders said during the official announcement.
Locally, the trail will extend down the Panhandle Trail through Weirton and potentially across the Market Street Bridge, then through Jefferson County along the U.S. Route 22 corridor and link up with Conotton Creek Trail in Jewett, Dodds said, adding the Jefferson County connection is a work-in-progress.
“Jefferson County is a bit of a gap area — the trail is not 100 percent determined as far as actual route, it’s still up in the air,” Dodds said. “But it will be going through Jefferson County. The focus now is on Jefferson County because it’s the first ‘gap’ between Washington, D.C., and the Ohio & Erie Canal and New Philadelphia (trailway), which connects to Columbus. Once they are able to solve Jefferson County with the help of local partners, we’ll have an unbroken trail between Washington, D.C., and Columbus.”
Dodds predicted it will be “a big economic driver.” He said small businesses typically crop up along trails, and access to one can tip the scale in terms of site selection for bigger companies looking to expand.
“It’s a tool we can use to really promote our area and help secure some of those larger companies that look not only at the infrastructure of an area, but also at quality of life,” Dodds said.
He said the recent designation of the Market Street Bridge as a historic landmark sealed the deal.
“This is a very exciting project for the area and I cannot emphasize enough the importance of the work that Ruby Greathouse has done as part of the Brooke Pioneer Trail in West Virginia and the great folks of West Virginia who got the Market Street Bridge designated as a historic landmark,” he said. “The Great American Rail-Trail will put this area on the map on a national level and will benefit all citizens in the county and region.”
To the east in Pennsylvania, a local celebration also took place Wednesday at the McDonald Trail Station and History Center, recognizing the inclusion of the Montour and Panhandle trails nearby. Festivities included a community run, walk and ride. Washington County Commissioner Larry Maggi touted the impacts the trail could have locally.
“(The county) is seeing a direct return in its vibrant tourism industry, and our trail systems provide a unique opportunity to capitalize on trail tourism and its impact on small business growth,” he said in a statement. “Community leaders in McDonald are driving a renewed energy, where both Panhandle and Montour Trail users are welcomed to town and encouraged to venture off-trail to enjoy the shops, services and its heritage.”
The route was detailed in a report from Rails-to-Trails Conservancy. Assessment of the route took 12 months and included input from RTC’s GIS analysis; area organizations such as the Montour Trail Council and Washington County’s Planning Commission and Department of Parks and Recreation; and trail planners and managers and state agencies elsewhere.
Back in Eastern Ohio and West Virginia, Dodds pointed to the work by Mike Paprocki and the Brooke-Hancock-Jefferson Metropolitan Planning Commission, who he said “worked tirelessly on a solid trails plan” for Jefferson County and the Northern Panhandle to save the Market Street Bridge for a future trail connection, which “is without a doubt key to the Great American Rail-Trail coming through this area vs. another route north or south of the county.”
“It’s a big deal,” Dodds said. “It’s gotten a lot of national attention. There are a lot of national backers as well as state backers.”
For more information on the Great American Rail-Trail and an interactive map of the route, go online to www.railstotrails.org/greatamericanrailtrail.