The Paint Creek Scenic Trail Association is paving the way for a new tourism infrastructure in southern West Virginia.

Toward that vision, the grassroots volunteer group announced last week that a small section of bumpy Paint Creek Road will likely be paved to smooth the way for motorists who want to take a historical trip back in time to explore the rich history of the area.

From Indian path to rugged pioneer settlement to West Virginia’s first mine war, Paint Creek’s story begs for historical interpretation.

“We’re trying to tell the story, but to do that you need a decent road,” says Jim Reed, Paint Creek Scenic Trail Association coordinator.

“When you’re sitting there going through those bumps, you’re thinking, ‘What a perfect scenic drive,’ but you’re spending most of your time looking at where you are going.”

The group has been working for over a decade to reinvigorate an area where bustling coal camps used to be home to thousands.

Now, it’s reverting back to wilderness.

"Nobody lives down there, so it doesn’t give the state much incentive to do repairs,” says Howard Hughes, president of the Upper Paint Creek Watershed Association. “But we are getting more and more travelers to go down the creek to enjoy the scenery.”

Reed says the stretch of road on Route 15 between Mossy and Mahan has been subject to little more than patches for about 40 years.

“It’s difficult to send people down that 4- or 5-mile stretch of road because it’s in bad shape. But it’s also the most beautiful area, with waterfalls, trout fishing and rock cliffs,” he says.

“Fishermen regularly use this area, and they will benefit from the road improvements also.”

If approved by the West Virginia Department of Transportation, the project would improve a 1.1-mile section this spring, along with some drainage and guard rails. By breaking the project down into small sections, it’s more manageable.

A mile of road may not seem like much, but Reed says it’s a major step for the volunteer group of “ordinary people doing extraordinary things.”

For over a decade, a group of 12 to 15 committed volunteers has seen to it that plans are moving forward. They meet every month over brown beans at the Korner Restaurant in Pax.

Their group includes almost 30 organizations, including businesses, government entities, churches and tourism advocates.

The association’s long range plan is to create a 44-mile network of pull-offs with tourist information from Tamarack to the Kanawha River.

A partnership with the West Virginia Parkways Authority has also enabled a rule change that will allow the association to place historical kiosks on parkways property.

That means figures like Mary Ingalls Wilder, who traveled the route at one point, will be honored with a sign and perhaps, one day, a monument.

In the next several weeks, the association will begin work on interpretive signs at two park and ride areas.

Several years ago the group established Paint Creek Road as a state scenic byway and received a $100,000 grant to identify the area’s cultural and historical resources. Brochures were printed to spread the word to tourists. The Fayette, Raleigh, and Kanawha county commissions have all contributed to the project as well.

With the help of the Coal Heritage Highway Authority, two kiosks have already been placed to guide motorists who get off the turnpike and want to explore the rich history of the area around Pax and Paint Creek.

“We’re in the process right now of putting up kiosks to identify the old coal towns and tell their stories. We want to show tourists what used to be,” says Hughes.

“First impressions mean a lot, and people getting off now and going down that road are not going to have a good impression of West Virginia.

“I think something definitely needs to be done. It’s beautiful scenery but there’s not much of a road to travel on to see it.”

“We’ve invested a lot of time and effort and it shows the potential is there,” says Reed.

Trail maps, travel itineraries, directions to nearby attractions, photographs and a wealth of other information about Paint Creek is available at www.paintcreekscenictrail.com.

— E-mail: cmoore@register-herald.com

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