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Feb. 15—PRINCETON — When the winter weather breaks, work could begin on a new hiking trail which will eventually become part of a system linking state parks in Mercer County and Summers County.
The Mercer County Commission recently discussed developments in the Bluestone Trails project, which is designed to create hiking and equestrian trails as well as opportunities for kayaking in Mercer County. Two grants from the West Virginia Department of Transportation (WVDOT) are helping to fund the project.
Both of the $150,000 grants are from the WVDOT's Alternative Trails Project. To activate the first grant, the county commission has to provide a 20 percent match, Commissioner Bill Archer said.
"Initially we didn't have a match on that, but they asked us to do that so we could move forward," County Commissioner Bill Archer said. "We can get the design work done immediately for putting up $10,000; but the other roughly $37,000 as in-kind to get the full benefit of the match."
To provide the in-kind match, some county employees will work with the project.
"And so I contacted Kevin Dials, our superintendent at Glenwood Park. He has experience with building trails, and Kevin is going to supervise after we get the design from Potesta Engineering," Archer said. "I have several contacts there. Adam Batty is the main guy we've been working with."
The first part of the project involves created a hiking trail more than 2 miles long. It will originate from a pavilion at Brush Creek and go down to Brush Creek Falls. From there, the trail could go eventually toward Pipestem, he said.
Another component in the Bluestone Trails project involves upgrading an existing trail in that area as well as creating a new one. The state Department of Natural Resources plans to improve the hiking trail, which goes from the pavilion to the falls.
"I spoke with the person who is in charge of that. He said they have limited resources, but they hope to start that just as soon as the weather breaks," Archer stated, adding that the engineers with Potesta plan to do the same with their trail project.
"In the next few weeks, they can go ahead and complete their site review and provide us with the frameworks of the design that we'll be following in order to do it," Archer said.
The property where the new trail will go is part of the state Nature Conservancy.
"They have certain restrictions and terms of climbing up the mountainside because there's some endangered plant species, most notably Spiraea Virginiana present in that area," Archer said. "It's a highly-endangered plant, but one that's incumbent upon trail walkers and other interested in protecting nature to be cautious about any activity in those regions. A little bit further toward Pipestem there's a tree species that's considered endangered."
Having endangered plant species along the hiking trail's route has to be taken into account, but the project can proceed.
"It's complex, but it's really exciting to have the Nature Conservancy as a partner in this," Archer said. "They're equally excited. They really want us to do right by nature there and also to open up the opportunities for people to visit safe portions of nature and enjoy it without endangering some of the plant species that are under their protection. It's exciting."
The goal is to link the trail with other trails extending all the way to Summers County. Ultimately, the trails will link Bluestone State Park in Summers County to Camp Creek State Park and Pipestem State Park.
"And maybe one day create an equestrian trail from Hinton up over Ellison's Ridge Mountain through Raleigh County and back into the existing equestrian trails associated with Camp Creek State Park," Archer said. Kayaking is another part of the overall project.
Tourists could spend time exploring the entire trail system between the two counties.
"What we see there are visitors and local residents enjoying an entire week in nature and also having the comforts of Pipestem State Park and other local facilities like the camping at Camp Creek," Archer said. "And, of course, Bluestone State Park, and an enjoyment of late 19th Century travel modes. They could go from kayak to hiking to equestrian over in the Summers County area."
— Contact Greg Jordan at firstname.lastname@example.org