- Associated Press - Sunday, June 21, 2015

CLARKSBURG, W.Va. (AP) - Improvements are coming to the rail trail in the Clarksburg area, but another round of work will be needed for a fully functioning trail connecting Clarksburg to Lost Creek, officials said.

The Harrison Commission recently awarded a $524,000 bid to Ryan Environmental to renovate a section of the rail trail near the Louis A. Johnson VA Medical Center while also repairing a culvert near the Center Branch Wildlife Management Area. Eighty percent of the funds will come out of a grant awarded through the state, with the county matching the other 20 percent.

Work on the project is expected to begin next month.

Charlotte Shaffer, executive director of the Harrison County Planning Department, said the scope of work had to be reduced due to the amount of grant money available. Shaffer said the work will focus on repairing the culvert and on upgrading an old tunnel near the hospital.

The tunnel will see improvements to its drainage and will have lights added to it, Shaffer said. From Camden Street to Doll Run Road, the trail will be re-graded, cleaned up and cleared to improve its walkability, she said.

County Administrator Willie Parker said the current project was originally meant to extend to Hite Field. But the more limited scope of the final bid will still mark progress towards completing the trail, Parker said.

“We have some maintenance issues between the VA park down to Mount Clare and into Lost Creek, and this project will address some of those,” Parker said.

Parker said the signage will likely need to be improved, as well, to help residents recognize the rail trail as a public trail.

Harrison County has applied for additional grant funding to finish another 3-mile stretch of the trail that would connect it to Lost Creek, Shaffer said.

Shaffer said a finished trail connecting Lost Creek to Clarksburg would benefit the health and quality of life of residents and could even lead to economic development.

“It does have an economic impact, because I have people from Lost Creek saying, ‘Man, I can’t wait for all this stuff to open so we can go on a day trip to Clarksburg,’” Shaffer said.

Peggy Pings, an outdoor recreation planner with the National Park Service, said many groups are organizing throughout the region towards a long-term goal of connecting the various rail trail systems. This would allow hiking and biking long distances through multiple states, she said.

Pings pointed to the recreation and tourism that have developed along the Great Allegheny Passage as an example of the potential for connecting rail trail systems in West Virginia, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Maryland.

But in the short-term, there are still obstacles to connecting Lost Creek and Clarksburg to the North View and North Bend Rail Trails north of town.

Shaffer said there’s a portion of the rail trail that the county doesn’t own and can’t acquire at the moment, making it difficult to connect to the other trails.

Parker said the lack of connectivity has led to some concerns about how much to invest in the Clarksburg portion of the trail. He said the focus at the moment is on maintaining this section so that it would be ready to connect to the larger trail system.

“If those opportunities arise in the future, then we’re ready to avail ourselves of those opportunities,” Parker said.

Pings said she’d like to see more grassroots support for maintaining and improving the rail trail in the Clarksburg area. She noted that many other well-established rail trails in the area have organized groups of volunteers.

“We have some gaps, and we have to really work towards filling those gaps,” Pings said. “It’s going to take some dedicated effort by a group, and right now, we don’t really have a trail advocacy group in Harrison County.”

For now, Shaffer said the county will continue to seek funding to improve the trail little by little. She said the application for the grant funding used for this summer’s rail trail improvements took four years to get approved.

“It’s a long, long, long process,” Shaffer said.

Any residents with questions about the rail trail system can call Pings at (304) 282-7464.

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Information from: The Exponent Telegram, http://www.theet.com

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