- Associated Press - Monday, December 7, 2015

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) - State legislators will soon decide whether to move forward with a proposed all-terrain vehicle trail system in central West Virginia similar to the Hatfield-McCoy Trails network in the southern section of the state.

A feasibility study is expected to be complete by Jan. 4 and follows more than a year of analysis by Marshall University’s Rahall Appalachian Transportation Institute and a series of public workshops in a seven-county area, The Charleston Gazette-Mail reports (http://bit.ly/1HPYGZQ).

A 5,000- to 10,000-acre tract of land in the studied area will be identified as the most feasible site for the trails system, Rahall Appalachian Transportation Institute project leader Amanda Payne said. The study area for the new trail system includes Braxton, Calhoun, Clay, Gilmer, Lewis, Nicholas and Webster counties.

“(The trail system) would be a welcome breath of fresh air for an area that has relied heavily on the coal industry and help it overcome the travesty of its decline,” said Sen. Greg Boso, R-Nicholas, who attended a public workshop on the proposed system in Richwood last month.

Payne said the trail path will not involve public lands.

Much of the privately owned land in the area is owned by holding companies involved in the forestry industry, Boso said.

By using agreements similar to those used by the Hatfield-McCoy system to lease trail property from landowners, the holding companies would retain ownership of the land, be protected from liability issues involving trail riders and be able to continue timbering operations.

If the study concludes that the trail system is worth pursuing, obtaining money from the Legislature to phase-in its development will be challenging, given the financial challenges state government faces, Boso said.

“We need to do what’s necessary in the next session to move forward and take this vision to the next step,” Boso said.

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Information from: The Charleston Gazette-Mail, http://wvgazettemail.com.

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