On Tuesday, project partners Preston County Parks and Recreation Commission (PCPaRC) and Friends of the Cheat (FOC) announced that ten miles of the former West Virginia Northern railroad corridor between Kingwood and Tunnelton has been purchased for conversion into a rail-trail.
Funding for the property acquisition was provided by the Federal Highway Administration’s Recreational Trails Program administered by the West Virginia Department of Transportation, Division of Highways; the Hazel Ruby McQuain Charitable Trust; and, the West Virginia Division of Tourism. The property and associated trail rights were purchased from Utah-based Kern Valley Railroad which acquired the railroad in 2000 following the closure of the stakeholder-operated Kingwood Northern tourist train.
Since 2002, a group of volunteers known as the Preston Rail-Trail Committee (PRTC) has worked persistently and patiently on developing rail-trails on three corridors in Preston County, and this purchase marks the group’s first rail-trail acquisition. In 2011, FOC took action to bring attention and resources to other aspects of the project. These efforts resulted in a wave of activity: the century old water tower was listed as a historic Endangered Property by Preservation Alliance of West Virginia; funding and technical support from the West Virginia Northern Brownfields Assistance Center supported the development of conceptual revitalization plans for the former railcar maintenance facility near the water tower; and Stan Hostler donated 2.5 acres of property adjacent to the water tower and trail. The emergence of the Preston County Parks and Recreation Commission as a partner represents the project’s final keystone because their willingness to own and manage the trail allows the project to come to fruition.
“The West Virginia Northern Rail-Trail is exactly the type of endeavor the Preston County Parks and Recreation Commission was formed to support. The rail-trail will link two communities and provide a new outdoor space for free, low-impact exercise.” explains PCPaRC President Lynn Housner. PCPaRC Commissioner Paul Martin believes the new rail-trail will also “enhance existing recreation opportunities offered at the Craig Civic Center and local schools in both Kingwood and Tunnelton.”
PCPaRC and FOC are ready to hit the trail running, and they have the funds to do so. The Recreational Trails program has granted the project team an additional $420,000 for rail-trail design and construction. With support from the Division of Highways, design will commence immediately with construction slated for 2016. A ground breaking event is being planned for this summer.
The groups will fundraise for additional rail-trail construction and maintenance funds. On Saturday, May 2nd PRTC will host the 11th annual Cheat Fest 5K with proceeds benefiting rail-trail projects in Preston County. Sign up to participate at http://cheatfest.org/activities-2/5k/
PRTC is eager to get more community members involved. The group meets the first Monday of each month at 5pm at the FOC offices in Kingwood. Learn more at www.cheat.org/recreation/trails.