New Trail Property Purchased in Preston County

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Finally!  A big win for FOC’s Preston Rail-Trail Committee!

For Immediate Release – April 7, 2015

Today, project partners Preston County Parks and Recreation Commission (PCPaRC) and Friends of the Cheat (FOC) announced that ten miles of the former West Virginia Northern railroad corridor between Kingwood and Tunnelton has been purchased for conversion into a rail-trail.

Funding for the property acquisition was provided by the Federal Highway Administration’s Recreational Trails Program administered by the West Virginia Department of Transportation, Division of Highways; the Hazel Ruby McQuain Charitable Trust; and, the West Virginia Division of Tourism.  The property and associated trail rights were purchased from Utah-based Kern Valley Railroad which acquired the railroad in 2000 following the closure of the stakeholder-operated Kingwood Northern tourist train.

Since 2002, a group of volunteers known as the Preston Rail-Trail Committee (PRTC) has worked persistently and patiently on developing rail-trails on three corridors in Preston County, and this purchase marks the group’s first rail-trail acquisition.  In 2011, FOC took action to bring attention and resources to other aspects of the project.  These efforts resulted in a wave of activity:  the century old water tower was listed as a historic Endangered Property by Preservation Alliance of West Virginia; funding and technical support from the West Virginia Northern Brownfields Assistance Center supported the development of conceptual revitalization plans for the former railcar maintenance facility near the water tower; and Stan Hostler donated 2.5 acres of property adjacent to the water tower and trail.  The emergence of the Preston County Parks and Recreation Commission as a partner represents the project’s final keystone because their willingness to own and manage the trail allows the project to come to fruition.

“The West Virginia Northern Rail-Trail is exactly the type of endeavor the Preston County Parks and Recreation Commission was formed to support.  The rail-trail will link two communities and provide a new outdoor space for free, low-impact exercise.” explains PCPaRC President Lynn Housner.  PCPaRC Commissioner Paul Martin believes the new rail-trail will also “enhance existing recreation opportunities offered at the Craig Civic Center and local schools in both Kingwood and Tunnelton.”

PCPaRC and FOC are ready to hit the trail running, and they have the funds to do so.  The Recreational Trails program has granted the project team an additional $420,000 for rail-trail design and construction.  With support from the Division of Highways, design will commence immediately with construction slated for 2016.  A ground breaking event is being planned for this summer.

The groups will fundraise for additional rail-trail construction and maintenance funds.  On Saturday, May 2nd PRTC will host the 11th annual Cheat Fest 5K with proceeds benefitting rail-trail projects in Preston County.  Sign up to participate at http://cheatfest.org/activities-2/5k/

PRTC is eager to get more community members involved.  The group meets the first Monday of each month at 5pm at the FOC offices in Kingwood.  Learn more at www.cheat.org/recreation/trails.

Ducks & Swans

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If a man fails to honor the rivers, he shall not gain the life from them. — Anonymous

I was raised on the Alabama gulf coast. As far back as I can remember, I was sporting on the water. Coastal cultures are different from inland cultures: different values, hobbies, and mannerisms. So, it has always been with a bit of trepidation that I have moved to inland cities and towns, no less so when I moved to West Virginia. Fortunately for me, I met a man named Bob Spangler. Though he claims to be from these parts, I noted a glimmer of the coast in his eye. Did I mention coastal people are a little crazy? Maybe it is all that water seeping into the brain.

Nonetheless, Bob introduced me to another kindred water spirit, Attila, who designs and manufactures inflatable kayaks. I visited his shop, Custom Inflatables, and saw first hand the care and pride his team puts into the best inflatable kayaks on the market today. Anyway, I worked out a deal on a used “ThrillSeeker,” picked up a quality marine pump and was on my way.

While I have enjoyed rafting all my life, hard boating (the graceful swans of our sport) demands a skill set that some people find more difficult to master than others. But a ThrillSeeker! I could suddenly boat in my own craft down the Cheat Canyon. While such excursions are certainly a thrill, “harrowing” is also a word that comes to mind.

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I have always enjoyed running the Narrows on my inflatable sofa: feet up, eyes on the sky; watching eagles and hawks watching us. I even invented my own water sport called “Guerilla Kayaking.” With my ThrillSeeker and pump tucked away in the trunk of my car, I can travel anywhere in America, scouting nontraditional put in and take out points. Or, I just put in. The take out takes care of itself. See, water creates community. While in landers may go about their own business, failing to look strangers in the eye, to seize the opportunities of meaningful coincidences, water people are much more sensitive to these nuances of human experience– to our interconnectedness with the natural world and with each other.

Yes, water creates community, and communities create questions: whose water is it? What are my responsibilities for stewardship of this resource? How does my relationship with the water mature?

But surely, the glory of the water is reflected in each of us, each time we choose to enjoy it in our own way. It is more than astonishing sceneries, or the mastery of mad skills. It is a heart-song we sing together: sharing paddles, food and drink, music, and remedies for poison ivy. It is a war cry: sounded and heard from a line run just so; from a friend who overcame a fear; from a drunken commercial raft who hits the rapid sideways.

Our water community is diverse. Answers to pressing questions will reflect that complexity. But we return to the water, time and time again, and each time we find our self.

Walt Turner recently retired from Bethany College where he was an Associate Professor of English.

Tundra swan photo by Derek Courtney.