In December of 2018, FOC was awarded an Abandoned Mine Land (AML) Pilot Program grant of over 3 million dollars to build an 8.5 mile rail-trail along the iconic Cheat River as part of its RE-CREATE project. The rail-trail will follow the Cheat River Narrows, a popular section of the river for whitewater boating, swimming, and fishing.
“The ‘RE-CREATE’ project was one of the most creative and multifaceted proposals that the [AML Pilot] Selection Committee has ever reviewed. It combines community recreation and tourism with historical interpretation about the challenges posed by local abandoned mine properties into one project.” – Ed Maguire, WVDEP Environmental Advocate and Selection Committee member.
Aimed to stimulate and diversify Preston County’s economy and strengthen its communities, the RE-CREATE project, which stands for Reclaiming the Cheat River as an Economic Asset through Trail Enhancement, is a multi-year endeavor that includes the construction of the Cheat River Rail-Trail and funding to implement Trail Town initiatives in Rowlesburg, Kingwood, Albright, and Tunnelton. RE-CREATE will also fund a hiking trail spur, outdoor learning park, and acid mine drainage treatment trials at the Lick Run portals AML site – the #1 source of acid pollution to the Cheat River.
Rail-trail and trailhead engineering is underway. FOC has hired AECOM and Downstream Strategies to design the project. It is anticipated that the trail surface will be asphalt, making the trail wheelchair and rollerblade friendly. FOC’s Preston site, located 2 miles south on River Road/WV Scenic Byway 72 from the Caddell Bridge, will become a trailhead with accessible, lighted parking, trail signage, and ample room for unloading bicycles, boats, and baby strollers. The centerpiece of this section of trail will be the 430 foot long trestle bridge spanning the Cheat River.
“The RE-CREATE project is going to result in an incredible section of public rail-trail. We are eager to hire and work with local companies to build a trail that brings a sense of pride and creates opportunity for the community. FOC is equally excited to be able to support a “mini-grants” program. This component of the RE-CREATE project is important; it will bolster economic ties to public lands and outdoor recreation by providing funds to local organizations and businesses. FOC has been a long time advocate for public access to and along the Cheat River, and we seek to dovetail access with social entrepreneurship.” – Owen Mulkeen, FOC Associate Director
The Trail Town process is modeled after successful Trail Town projects across the country including the Great Allegheny Passage and Delaware and Lehigh National Heritage Corridor Trail Town programs. Dr. Steve Selin will provide leadership for RE-CREATE’s Trail Town component.
“The Cheat River Rail-Trail will be an engine for regional economic development. To support that goal, the project will include a Trail Town Program to connect local communities to the trail and connect the trail to local communities. The aim is to encourage bike-friendly destinations where people want to stay, explore, and spend. A community-based process will support trail-friendly businesses, wayfaring and interpretive signing, festivals and events, and marketing activities.” – Dr. Steve Selin, Professor of Recreation, Parks & Tourism Resources
The dedication of the volunteers, and the broad community support for this project, is reflected in the 36 letters of support submitted with the grant proposal. The group is eager to work with even more stakeholders through the Trail Town process. “We hope to see all of Preston County coming together to join forces and make the trails a tourist attraction with all the amenities in the near future,” Ervin said.
Friends of the Cheat Executive Director Amanda Pitzer encourages local organizations and individuals to reach out as the project gets off the ground: “We don’t want to leave anyone out who wants to be involved. We believe the opportunities presented by this project, and complementary initiatives led by our public and private partners, can truly improve the quality of life for both Prestonians and newcomers to the Cheat River.”
“PRTC was formed as a group in 2002 to begin working on rail-trails in Preston County. We all had a great vision for ways to improve property and recreational life for the county. The amount of time and patience we have expended is worth it all. I can’t imagine what it will feel like to actually ride on one of the projects we started! We are ever thankful for those who have come and contributed and moved on and always thankful for those who are still around to carry on. We are indebted to Keith Pitzer and Friends of the Cheat for sharing our vision. We could not have done it without them! We hope to see all of Preston County coming together to join forces and make the trails a tourist attraction with all the amenities in the near future.” – Connie Ervin, Preston Rail-Trail Committee Chair