Exciting happenings in West Virginia last week—as local and national trail advocates gathered virtually for the inaugural WV TRAIL Conference (Nov. 16–18, 2021). Hosted by WV TRAIL, the National Park Service – Rivers, Trails and Conservation Assistance Program, Friends of the Cheat and Rails-to-Trails Conservancy (RTC), the conference brought together more than 250 people with the goal of building a broad network of trail planners, managers and advocates from across the Mountain State.
In his keynote address on Tuesday, Nov. 16, Peter Harnik, RTC co-founder and author of “From Rails To Trails: The Making of America’s Active Transportation Network,” highlighted West Virginia’s role and good standing as a national leader in rail-trail development, noting the nearly 600 miles of rail-trails that crisscross the state.
West Virginia Tourism Secretary Chelsea Ruby emphasized the demand for trails in her welcome remarks. “I regularly meet with local officials across the state, and I’ve never had a meeting where somebody didn’t say, ‘What can I do to get more trails in my area?’” said Ruby. “It’s the hot topic.”
Rich Edwards, the outdoor recreation infrastructure coordinator for West Virginia University’s Brad and Alys Smith Outdoor Economic Development Collaborative emphasized the importance of trails in boosting West Virginia’s economy. He stated, “Our dream is a West Virginia that is known as a place for outdoor recreation ... the energy from this conference makes me think that dream is being realized.”
Conference attendees heard from a variety of panelists and speakers who shared inspiring stories, lessons learned and recommendations for building a trails movement in West Virginia. On Wednesday, RTC’s Vice President of Communications, Brandi Horton, joined Flatwater Trail Commission leader Bill Currey and West Virginia-based communications strategist James Hersick to share stories and strategies for communicating the impact of trails.
The closing session on Thursday, “Trail Advocacy in Action,” highlighted the role and importance of engaging state, local and federal officials to support investment in trail development at all levels of government. State Rep. Kent Smith (D-Ohio), State Sen. Dennis Kruse (R-Ind.) and Andrea LaFontaine, executive director of the Michigan Trails and Greenways Alliance, spoke about the impact of legislative trails caucuses—which have built support and momentum for trail development in Ohio, Indiana and Wisconsin in recent years—while Mayor Amy Goodwin (Charleston, West Virginia), Mayor Sam Felton (Marlinton, West Virginia) and Amy Dingle of Five Rivers MetroParks (Dayton, Ohio) shared successful strategies for engaging decisionmakers at the local level. To round things out, Marianne Fowler, RTC’s senior strategist for policy advocacy, provided a helpful overview of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act and its potential impact for West Virginia communities.
Analysis: Bipartisan Infrastructure Bill Passes With New Opportunities for Trails, Walking and Biking
Along with nonmotorized trail groups from across the Mountain State, RTC is contributing to the trail movement in West Virginia by creating and connecting a broad network of trail advocates and users through our leadership in the Industrial Heartland Trails Coalition and beyond.
We look forward to supporting WV TRAIL, the new statewide trails organization that aims to increase the awareness of and appreciation for trails of all kinds—with a mission to develop a vibrant network of trail leaders who will work toward expanding trail systems throughout West Virginia.