The Times West Virginian

October 24, 2013

Rail-trail input and involvement being sought

Meeting set today at The Gatherings

By Jessica Borders
Times West Virginian

FAIRMONT — Members of the public are invited to speak up about the rail-trail program in Marion County and get involved.

Interested persons are encouraged to attend a meeting today at 12:30 p.m. at The Gatherings on Monroe Street in downtown Fairmont.

Tony Michalski, director of the Marion County Parks and Recreation Commission, and Ella Belling, executive director of the Mon River Trails Conservancy, will put together a team of advocates from the community to investigate what needs to be done along the rail-trail.

This rail-trail discussion is part of the weekly meeting known as “12:30,” which is held every Thursday at The Gatherings.

Main Street Fairmont started this initiative and facilitates the meetings, which bring together a mixture of residents and representatives from organizations to discuss issues or concerns in the community, ideas for growth and change, and events or projects.

A lot of people from the group have been very passionate about the rail-trail program and expressed their interest in being advocates, said Kate Greene, executive director of Main Street Fairmont.

She said many ideas get introduced and discussed at “12:30,” and then the parties often find their own time to meet separately and work on those projects. Greene urged “anybody that’s interested in being part of the solution” to join in the rail-trail chat.

“You have to come and be willing to work toward a solution,” she said. “All that good, positive energy makes a difference.”

Greene feels the timing is perfect to talk about the rail-trail because of the cooperative agreement between the city and the county for the ongoing riverfront development project.

Main Street Fairmont is also working with the city and county to try to secure a Growing Healthy Communities Grant, which is administered by the West Virginia Development Office and designated specifically for West Virginia Main Street and ON TRAC communities.

Main Street Fairmont wants to develop a pedestrian and bicycle connectivity plan, which would show how bicycle and pedestrian routes could link all of the community’s assets and promote healthy lifestyles. The plan could be used by people in the area interested in doing streetscape development or other relevant improvements, Greene said.

Main Street plans to submit its grant application on Friday, and the award announcement will probably be made in December, she said. If awarded the funding, Main Street would be able to apply for larger grants in the future to implement the project.

The community is filled with knowledgeable people who have skills that could elevate the rail-trail program to the next level, Greene said.

Michalski, of the Marion County Parks and Recreation Commission, said today’s meeting will provide more exposure for the county’s rail-trail system and gather input from the community about what they’d like to see.

The group will discuss how to make Fairmont more friendly to pedestrians and bicyclists. One of MCPARC’s goals is to work with the city and other agencies to clear a nice, safe path across towns that connects the trails, he said.

The 14.5-mile West Fork Trail runs from Fairmont to Shinnston, and the 2.5 mile MCTRAIL goes from Morgantown Avenue in Fairmont to Pricketts Fort State Park. Both trails are paved, but the West Fork Trail switches to a packed limestone surface outside of Marion County, Michalski said.

He said MCPARC is waiting for property to be transfered from CSX to the county so it can start a new rail-trail project from Barrackville to Mannington.

“We are looking forward to the future here,” Michalski said.

MCPARC is also looking for volunteers to clean up the trails, report any maintenance problems and work on other projects, he said. The trails are used by a lot of residents as well as visitors for walking and biking, and many events take place along those paths.

The Mon River Trails Conservancy is a nonprofit organization that maintains about 48 miles of trail system, including 3 miles that are in Marion County and connect at Pricketts Fort. Belling, of the conservancy, has worked with MCPARC quite a bit on trail projects, connectors and grants.

“Our organization is focused mainly on our trail system of upkeep, but we also are always looking to try to do long distance connections and make our trail system longer, mostly by working with other organizations on ways to see that those extensions happen,” she said.

Belling said the Mon River Trails Conservancy is also involved in promotions and fundraisers to get more people to use the trail system.

At today’s meeting, she will share information about the work her organization has done, talk about possibilities for Fairmont, and also learn as much as she can from the attendees. The goal is to form a task force to focus on the needs of the Fairmont trail system, Belling said.

“I hope to continue to stay involved,” she said.

People who are unable to attend Thursdays meeting but want to get involved can call Main Street Fairmont at 304-366-0468, contact MCPARC at 363-7037 or mcparcfun@aol.com, or email the Mon River Trails Conservancy at ella@montrails .org.

At the 12:30 meeting next Thursday, Oct. 31, the group will address the issue of vacant, dilapidated businesses and homes in local neighborhoods and how the community can advocate for change, Greene said.

Email Jessica Borders at jborders@timeswv.com or follow her on Twitter @JBordersTWV.