By Jessica Borders
Times West Virginian
Main Street Fairmont and its partners are working toward enhancing the city’s connectivity.
The West Virginia Development Office recently selected Main Street Fairmont as a recipient of a $20,000 Growing Healthy Communities Grant, funded by the Claude Worthington Benedum Foundation and the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources.
This grant program is specifically designed for Main Street and ON TRAC communities in the state.
The funding is designated for projects that promote health and wellness as well as downtown revitalization and development.
In addition to Main Street Fairmont, grants were also awarded to Downtown Parkersburg, Kingwood Main Street, City of Elkins, Main Street Ronceverte, City of Shinnston, Sutton Community Development Corporation and Philippi Main Street. These eight grants total $117,801, according to a press release from the Development Office.
“We were really excited,” said Kate Greene, executive director of Main Street Fairmont. “There were quite a few that applied, so we feel very fortunate.”
She explained that Main Street and its partners will use the grant money to develop a pedestrian and bicycle connectivity plan. This plan will connect neighborhoods with community assets — like existing trails, parks, recreational facilities, workplaces and the downtown commercial core — and create a safe, walkable network.
“It’s advocating for healthy lifestyles, healthy living in our community,” Greene said.
Once the plan is created, it becomes a realistic, relevant, go-to model for groups in the area that are interested in making changes, she said. The plan will also give Fairmont a resource to use when applying for other grants or existing state funds.
“It becomes a community resource,” Greene said.
Work will start on the project this month, and the connectivity plan must be completed and ready to implement in June.
The project involves a lot of community partnerships. Main Street is working with the City of Fairmont Parks Commission, the City of Fairmont Planning Department, and the Marion County Parks and Recreation Commission on these efforts. An engineer will also help facilitate the project.
“The biggest thing long-term for me is to see that this would become part of Fairmont’s comprehensive plan, which feeds into the future development of our city,” Greene said. said.
Fairmont City Planner Kathy Wyrosdick added that the idea is to create a more walkable community. Fairmont needs to do a better job of connecting the entire city to the downtown area, she said.
This is a concept that Main Street and the city as a whole have discussed.
The connectivity plan created through this grant wouldn’t just be limited to Main Street’s jurisdiction, but would also focus on connecting neighborhoods to all of Fairmont’s community assets or anchors — including parks, facilities, schools and stores. This work would make communities more pedestrian-friendly and more attractive to potential new residents, and encourage healthy lifestyles, Wyrosdick said.
She said the next step is to develop a request for proposals in order to find some qualified businesses and organizations to work on the connectivity plan.
“It’ll be one of the first plans that I know of that specifically just looks at pedestrian connections between homes and anchors,” Wyrosdick said.
The plan could help the city prioritize capital expenditures for sidewalks, bicycle lanes or other projects; lead to policy or regulatory change with street designs; or result in other benefits, she said.
Greene said the project will be largely community-based, with a lot of opportunities for engagement and involvement from residents. She encouraged people who are passionate about Fairmont being a walkable community to get involved in the project.
The pedestrian and bicycle connectivity plan will be discussed during the weekly meetings held on Thursdays at 12:30 p.m. at The Gatherings on Monroe Street in downtown Fairmont. These meetings, which Main Street started and facilitates, bring together a mixture of residents as well as representatives from Fairmont State, Pierpont Community & Technical College and the City of Fairmont.
The connectivity plan also ties in directly with the efforts to investigate what needs to be done along the rail trail in Marion County, which is gaining a lot of momentum through the 12:30 meetings, Greene said.
Tony Michalski, director of the Marion County Parks and Recreation Commission, said one of the goals of the grant project is to develop a link through town from the West Fork River Trail to MCTRAIL, and to make the county’s parks pedestrian and bicycle friendly.
“We’re definitely in need of better alternative transportation routes,” he said.
Alternative transportation will in turn increase recreation, especially if the two trails can be connected, as well as local tourism. MCPARC will provide its input for the connectivity plan and do whatever it can to help Main Street with the project, Michalski said.
He said MCPARC is also looking at the East Side of Fairmont and the possibility of connecting MCTRAIL to Palatine Park. The study should help MCPARC determine if that option is feasible.
The objective is to create improved access through Fairmont and its major trail heads. MCPARC has been applying for some other grants that are related to the Main Street project, Michalski said.
He said MCPARC received a West Virginia Transportation Enhancement Grant to repair the Norway bridge along the West Fork River Trail, and is writing additional grant proposals to try to get funding for both that trail and MCTRAIL. In addition, the organization has applied for a $5,000 grant through the American Hiking Society, which would allow MCPARC and the city to improve the MCTRAIL trail head that is by the Meredith Tunnell and expand the parking area.
For more information, call Main Street Fairmont at 304-366-0468 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Email Jessica Borders at email@example.com or follow her on Twitter @JBordersTWV.