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“I commend the West Virginia Trails Coalition as it develops a statewide plan. We must be careful stewards of West Virginia’snatural assets while offering people the chance to experience the beauty of the state.”
—Governor Bob Wise.
Download the complete 134-page plan with photos and resources (pdf 2.5 mb)
Existing river trail in Plattsburgh, New York
MISSION of the Statewide Trail Plan
The mission of the Statewide Trail Plan is to:
GOALS of the Statewide Trail Plan
The goals of the Statewide Trail Plan include:
EXECUTIVE SUMMARY: A VISION FOR WEST VIRGINIA’S TRAILS
A Trail Definition
A trail is: A designated land corridor or body of water that provides
recreational, aesthetic, alternate transportation or
educational opportunities to both motorized and
non-motorized users, for all ages and abilities.
Pathways to the Future: Why a statewide trail plan?
Scenic Beauty Brings Opportunity and Challenge
West Virginia is blessed with one of the most beautiful landscapes in the United States, but it is a landscape that is often inaccessible to visitors and state residents. As the state's tourism industry continues to grow, West Virginia finds itself challenged to increase access to this landscape, while protecting it from over-development and preserving its unique history, heritage and people. The purpose of the Statewide Trail Plan is to provide a guide for making the wonders of West Virginia accessible to all kinds of people, for all kinds of uses, without compromising the natural, historical or cultural integrity of West Virginia.
The Path of Development
Ever since the days when Native Americans hunted the rich bounty of game in West Virginia's hills, development in the state has been dependent on trails, both land and water. Throughout the state's history, economic and demographic growth has followed the corridors of transportation. From the pioneers' exploration of the state along its rivers and trails, to the development of our communities along the railroad corridors, to the growth of America today as it follows the nation's interstate system, access has been the secret of success.
The Growth of the Recreation Industry
Today in West Virginia, the importance of trails has come full circle. The abandoned wagon paths and railroad corridors of the industrial revolution are once again becoming vital assets to the state. Tourism, including active outdoor recreation and nature tourism, has become one of West Virginia's fastest- growing industries. The escalating use of trails of all kinds is expected to continue into the future as visitors and residents enjoy the Mountain State's scenic beauty in ever-increasing numbers.
Toward a Better Quality of Life
West Virginia's destiny has largely been determined by its geography and its geology, both of which have contributed to the state's rural nature. Ironically, many West Virginians find their rural location limits access to the outdoor recreational opportunities available to them. The Statewide Trail Plan proposes to forge a unique public/private partnership that will make West Virginia the “trails destination” of the eastern United States. In doing so, the state will create not only a significant economic development tool, but a resource that will improve the quality of life for all West Virginians.
Preparing the Way: Development of the Plan
The Birth of the Plan
The development of the Statewide Trail Plan began in 1996, when the West Virginia Trails Coalition brought together the appropriate private and public entities needed to coordinate and promote the development of the state's land and water trails. The process quickly gained the involvement of other trail groups, as well as local, state and federal agencies. This led to the Wild, Wonderful Trails Conference in Nitro, W.Va., in March 1997. Gov. Cecil Underwood provided the keynote address. Following the conference, the Statewide Trail Plan committee was formed with a membership representing a wide range of public agencies and private organizations.
Involving the Public
The committee assured maximum public involvement in the plan through a series of 12 public workshops around the state and through a survey mailed to West Virginia trail users and made available on the Internet. The workshops and survey provided the data that the committee considered in drafting the plan. In September 1999, a draft of the Statewide Trail Plan was released to the public for further comment. Those comments were incorporated into the final version of the plan.
Meeting the Needs of West Virginia
The resulting Statewide Trail Plan addresses the needs of all types of trails and all types of trail users. It plots a
course that will maximize the economic and community development benefits of trails, while making the health
and aesthetic benefits of a broad-based, diverse and accessible trail system available to every West Virginian.
Making it Happen: Implementation
The Statewide Trail Plan blazes the way to a successful trail program in West Virginia. The Executive
Summary is an overview of its recommendations. Since publication of the originally published Executive
Summary, some of the actions have been updated and are listed below as well as discussed in Chapter 3.
Among its recommendations:
1) Create a West Virginia State Trails Program
• Expand the membership and authority of the West Virginia Recreational Trails Advisory Board.
• Appoint a state trails coordinator.
• Create a state trails program advisory group to address program development and funding needs.
• Update the statewide trail plan on a regular basis.
2) Coordinate Activities
• Have an annual trails conference.
• Conduct regular trails coordination meetings around the state.
• Develop and upgrade trail web sites and links.
3) Utilize Trails for Alternative Transportation
• Increase public awareness of the benefits of alternative transportation.
• Incorporate alternative transportation into all road planning and design.
• Create a coalition to work with WVDOT to identify and pursue funding for alternative transportation needs.
• Identify state-owned corridors for alternate transportation routes.
4) Promote the Economic Benefits of Trails
• Create programs that promote investment in trail infrastructure.
• Develop a media campaign to educate the public on the benefits of trails.
• Conduct economic development work shops statewide to assist trail-related small businesses.
• Conduct economic impact studies of trails on public and privat lands.
5) Encourage Cooperative Maintenance
• Determine and address trail maintenance needs statewide.
• Develop volunteer trail maintenance programs.
• Create a statewide trail maintenance handbook.
6) Minimize Trail-Use Conflicts
• Develop trail policies and safety programs for all trails.
• Develop trail management systems for all trails.
• Create standards for design, signage and safety that would minimize trail use conflicts.
7) Encourage Trail Partnerships
• Advise and coordinate local trail efforts and linkages.
• Create a rural development program to assist gateway communities.
• Develop legislation that provides trail and river groups access to insurance coverage through local or state government.
• Involve West Virginia's 11 Regional Planning and Development Councils in trail planning.
• Provide state agency consultation services for local recreation planning.
• Consider expanding West Virginia Tourism Commission membership.
8) Connect Existing Trails
• Locate and map all existing and proposed trails and river access points.
• Develop a comprehensive statewide trail map that visualizes linkages.
• Collaborate regionally to connect trails.
9) Collaborate with Private Landowners
• Broaden and enhance legislation limiting the liability of landowners along trails.
• Encourage local approaches to increasing landowner support of trails.
• Develop an incentive program through WVDNR that encourages land owners to provide public access for recreational purposes.
10) Create More Trails
• Fund studies to determine regional trail needs.
• Consolidate all existing and proposed trails into a master plan.
• Repair and complete the state's flagship trails, the Greenbrier River Trail and the North Bend Rail Trail.
• Develop land donation incentive programs.
• Create standard state procedures for acquiring and converting abandoned rail corridors to trails.
• Include river access points in future road construction or repair.
11) Develop a State Funding Program for Trails
• Develop a state loan program for trail-related businesses.
• Create a state trail fund that can be used to match federal funds.
• Create a West Virginia Trails Foundation.
• Develop new sources of funding.
12) Raise Awareness of Trails
• Develop trail marketing strategies.
• Inform the public about trails.
• Identify and install signage along high ways for major trailheads.
13) Improve Trail Accessibility
• Create a standardized format for relaying information about trail features, conditions and difficulty.
• Create recognizable and standardized signage for all trails.
• Provide trail signage, maps and guides in alternative formats.
• Increase awareness of, and adherence to, ADA design requirements.
• Target non-traditional trail use groups in trail planning and promotion.
• Conduct a statewide water trails assessment.
• Expand, subsidize and interpret the state's river gauging system for the recreational paddler.
• Expand on-site programs for environmental education and interpretation of trailside resources.
The West Virginia Statewide Trail Plan provides "The Pathway to the Future" for the state's trails and the development of the active outdoor recreation industry in West Virginia. But the plan is only the first step. A plan that sits on a shelf is a waste of energy and money. Only through implementation of the plan's recommendations can we make West Virginia the "Trail Destination" of the eastern United States.
Just as the Statewide Trail Plan was created through cooperation, so too will implementation rely on the cooperation of state legislators, public agencies, private businesses and non-profit organizations. The goal of making our state's scenic beauty and rich heritage accessible to all is ambitious, but attainable. The time is right for West Virginia to step down the Pathway to the Future.
INTRODUCTION: Trails from the past
Trails have long played an important role in the history of human interaction with the land in West Virginia. From the earliest Native American exploration of the region to the evolution of today’s burgeoning tourist trade, trails have been an instrumental element in connecting and developing different areas of the state. The first native explorers carved out hunting and warring paths, following the tracks created by the region’s abundant wildlife. With travel often impeded by streams and rivers, the native people constructed bark canoes and dugouts to transform these water “barriers” into routes as vital as trails on land. European colonists expanded the land trails or “traces” into horse paths and wagon roads.
Transportation projects such as the 19th century Staunton-Parkersburg Turnpike later developed these paths into a fledgling cross country transportation network. The railroads subsequently followed many of these very routes when laying thousands of miles of track throughout West Virginia.
Trails to the future
We now stand at the threshold of a new and exciting time for trails in West Virginia. With tourism representing an ever-increasing portion of the state economy, trails are now developing into the backbone of the West Virginia outdoor recreation industry. The old paths and traces of native warriors and pioneers are being developed into trail networks that allow visitors to enjoy the natural beauty of West Virginia’s wilderness and pastoral countryside. Railroad lines that formerly hauled countless tons of coal and timber now serve as some of the most highly rated rail-trails in the nation. Just as the highway system serves to link the commercial and industrial centers of the state, trails connect West Virginia’s many compelling scenic and recreational attractions. Indeed, trails serve urban and rural communities throughout the state, acting as linear parks and providing cost-effective recreational facilities for urban, suburban and rural areas. Through cooperative development and promotional efforts, our trail system can become an even more lucrative asset that will draw increasing numbers of visitors while preserving the environment and maintaining the quality of life cherished by West Virginia residents.
Download the complete 134-page plan with photos and resources (pdf 2.5 mb)