The Fayette Trail Coalition and its partners are forging new paths as southern West Virginia continues to venture into uncharted territory.

Among the critical focus areas as the redesignation of the local National Park Service entity to the New River Gorge National Park and Preserve enters its second year is a no-brainer — strengthening, promoting and preserving the myriad outdoor recreational opportunities found in the region. All the while, leaders at various levels realize that — while a larger influx of visitors will bode well to the region's overall financial picture — they must also be cognizant of what the national park designation means in terms of infrastructure and sustainability.

One of those many offerings is a growing collection of multi-use trails available to residents and visitors to the area. And the possibilities of maintaining that impetus have been strengthened through the toil of numerous local individuals and agencies in recent months.

After nearly a year of work, the Fayette Trail Coalition, WVU's Brad and Alys Smith Outdoor Economic Development Collaborative, Plateau Action Network, Fayette County Commission, Town of Fayetteville, City of Oak Hill and New River Bikes have released a proposed soft surface trail plan created by the professional design firm of Applied Trail Research.

The first of three public meetings to advance the plan was held Thursday at Oak Hill City Hall. Fayette Trail Coalition President Abbie Newell said she appreciated "the excitement and the support" expressed during the meeting from local leaders and community members Thursday. Discussions Thursday included the overall scope of the project as well as potential funding sources, including various agencies or volunteer groups, said Newell.

According to a press release, the plan is expected to result in the creation of over 30 additional miles of trails in four properties in Fayette County. In response to the recent redesignation of the NRGNPP and a pandemic-related increase in outdoor recreation participation, Fayette County is experiencing an influx of new, recreation-focused visitors, trail representatives and other leaders stress. The redesignation creates an opportunity to develop more trails to provide visitors and residents added recreational opportunities, increase the average length of stay, increase access to the area's special landscapes, and continue to enhance the region's reputation as a premier outdoor destination.

Looking ahead into the future, the FTC earlier envisioned such opportunities to reach a wider base of visitors and residents focused on outdoor recreation, and that vision has been fortuitous as the birth of the nation's newest national park in the New River Gorge a little over a year ago has brought more and more visitors streaming in to the Mountain State, in spite of the lingering Covid-19 pandemic.

The four initial projects adjacent to the national park identified by the coalition and its partners to meet the growing recreation need were as follows:

Town of Fayetteville — Fayetteville Town Park;

City of Oak Hill — Needleseye Park;

Fayette County — Fayette County Park; and

Fayette County Urban Renewal Authority — Wolf Creek Park.

Funding for all four of those projects is expected to cost $2.4 million, according to Newell.

According to the press release, those particular projects would double the current trail opportunities outside of the NRG National Park and Preserve, with 30-plus more miles of soft surface trails resulting in the creation of "diverse trail experiences" for community members and visitors alike.

In partnership with the New River Gorge Regional Development Authority and Region 4 Planning and Development Council and pending final allocations of U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin's congressionally directed spending requests, aka earmarks, which were submitted in 2021, the project team says it is positioned to begin implementation on the Fayetteville Town Park and the City of Oak Hill's Needleseye Park segments of the plan. The scope of these projects includes about 12 miles of multi-use trails, trailhead facilities and skills development features. With both properties connecting the towns to the national park via trail, the projects will benefit local businesses in the gateway communities. Newell said also included in the first round of work will be a feasibility study to explore connecting the project with Mount Hope.

Newell said various sources of grant funding are also being explored.

As the partners look to advance the master plan, community members interested in learning more are invited to join them at two remaining in-person public meetings:

Jan. 20, 5:30 p.m. — Fayetteville Town Hall, 125 North Court Street, Fayetteville; and

Jan. 24, 6 p.m. — Oak Hill City Hall, 100 Kelly Ave., Oak Hill.

For individuals who can't join in person, check social media pages of the Fayette Trail Coalition, the Town of Fayetteville and/or the City of Oak Hill for a link to join the meetings virtually.

The trail coalition is meeting at Wolf Creek at 10 a.m. on Sunday, Jan. 23 for its monthly trail maintenance effort. Volunteers are welcome, Newell said.

She says she's excited to see the plans continuing to take shape. An expanded trail network adjacent to the NRGNPP is "great for the visitors and the residents alike," she said. While creating access to extra doses of the region's beauty, more miles of trails will also help spread out foot and bike traffic and prevent congestion, she said.

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