FAIRMONT – The trail from Pittsburgh to Parkersburg is only a few missed connections away from being a complete line, with only a few gaps cutting up the path.
Some of the breaks in the West Virginia Rail Trails are in Fairmont, where private property cuts through where the paths could potentially link up.
“We’ve got this big project we’ve been working on trying to close the Rail Trail gaps,” said Alex Petry, program manager for the City of Fairmont. “It’s part of the P2P Corridor that’s going to start in Parkersburg and go all the way up to Pittsburgh. There are only a few gaps in West Virginia, and Fairmont has one of those gaps.”
On Tuesday, Petry and the city invited the public to hear from Jim Christie, senior project manager for Civil and Environmental Consultants Inc., who presented proposals to link the trails so Fairmont would no longer have one of the breaks in the path. The city received a grant for $10,000 from the Mon River Towns program, which will help in the funding of Christie and his proposals.
“We have a missing donut hole just shy of four miles in Fairmont,” Christie said. “This missing link stops us from bringing people into Fairmont that would be traveling from Pennsylvania to Morgantown to Fairmont to Clarksburg to North Bend to Parkersburg.”
The proposals Christie made were attempts to link land from the West Fork River Trail together, which could involve using public streets or purchasing private property. Christie said that the benefit from linking this trail together would be increased visitation from travelers, who would be able to come into and exit Fairmont through the trail.
“Rail Trails are a big economic engine when they’re done right,” Christie said. “That typically means non-missing sections, and having a complete thoroughfare linking towns, communities, resorts.”
Christie gave three proposed routes that could link the trail together, each running through the west side of Fairmont through city streets, private and CSX property. Each has benefits and takeaways, but Christie said his plan was to work on all three.
“We’re laying out these scenarios we’re talking about,” Christie said. “Each of the scenarios all have their own different parts and pieces... and finding opportunities for each of that.”
Community members at the meeting also spoke up with comments and concerns about the possibilities presented, with some agreeing that the economic impact would be positive for Fairmont and Marion County.
“The Rails to Trails Conservancy has studies from all over the nation showing the economic impact of trails,” said Kent Spellman, a consultant with the Rails to Trails Conservancy. “We have too many short, unconnected trails, and that’s one of the things we’re working on here is trying to overcome the perception that we just have these little short trails.”
The Marion County Parks and Recreation Commission maintains trails in Marion County, and has also been working to connect them together in the county. For them to have a partner also working toward the same goal is positive for both agencies.
“We’re glad we’re seeing the city taking these measures to make this a reality,” said Tony Michalski, director of the Marion County Parks and Recreation Commission. “It’s been one of our goals for 20 years now to get these things completed through town, and we’re willing to work with them in any way that we can.”
Christie will present his proposals at the Dec. 17 meeting of Fairmont City Council, which the council will use as a basis on how to proceed with the Rail Trail project. City officials present at Tuesday’s meeting interacted with Christie and asked questions to engage with the presentation.
“Costs and money, that’s always a factor, and also timing,” said Phil Mason, councilman for Fairmont City Council. “There’s money right now, so it really looks like we’ve got about a year with these horses that are still available to help us.”