By LEIGH C. MERRIFIELD
News & Journal Editor

The North Bend Rail Trail is part of the 5,500 mile coast-to-coast American Discovery Trail.  It passes through ten tunnels and crosses 48 bridges.  Pictured above is the bridge crossing the North Fork of the Hughes River east of Cairo – a great spot to pause and enjoy a beautiful view!  Photo by Mike Tewkesbury.

Officials with the West Virginia Department of Transportation announced last week the awarding of a long-awaited construction project to repair the North Bend Rail Trail in Doddridge and Harrison Counties.

Originally approved for funding in 2011, the $100,000 project was delayed during the past six years due to modifications to federal rules.  Sadly, during this time, costs have risen, but so has the continued search for additional funding for a few other trail perks!

The North Bend Rail Trail Foundation, Inc. is run by an 11-member board chaired by Mark Abbott of Wood County, who also serves as grant writer.  He noted that during this lapse of time, more than $900,000 in additional funding has been accumulated, making this a 1.58 million dollar improvement project.

The part of the trail closest to North Bend State Park is in the best condition largely due to it being overseen by Trail Superintendent Paul Elliott at North Bend.  He and two seasonal workers maintain the 72 miles of trail and tunnels.   The upcoming project will extend trail repairs into Doddridge and Harrison Counties where trails have more mending needed.

Officials have awarded the contract for the construction to Kelly Paving.  The start date has not yet been announced.

Harrison County is represented on the NBRT Board by two Harrison Countians, Kevin Fluharty of Salem and Kathleen Panek of Shinnston.

Panek noted that bike repair stations are located along the trail and another is scheduled to be added.  “These repair stations have all the tools that might be necessary for minor repairs when riding the trail,” Panek explained.  “This will make three of them along the trail to help bike enthusiasts who might experience any problems.  There are also comfort stations along the way and another may be added along with signage to denote how far it is to the next station.”

North Bend Rail Trail is one of two trails in the Mountain State owned by the state.  Each is over 70 miles long and they bring in bikers and hikers from all over the state and beyond.  This project is expected to be a plus for tourism in West Virginia.

Rail Trails are growing in popularity.  According to the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy, there are 1,800 rail trails totaling more than 21,000 miles in 41 states.  This form of outdoor recreation is a leisure activity that offers ‘scenic exercise’ for tourists as well as locals, and studies show that properties that abut trails have an increased property value.

Panek related one example of how rail trail development can affect business.  “When I was a resident of Illinois, there was a Dairy Queen situated near a rail trail, and because of the increased traffic, they actually reconfigured their entrance and their facility’s service window to be able to better accommodate the trail customers they got,” she said.  “Any time someone spends money to make improvements like that, it means it will be profitable for them … and it was.”

Kathleen, who is the owner of The Gillum House Bed & Breakfast in Shinnston, says she has often hosted tourists who are in the local area specifically to enjoy the Rail Trail.

“I know first-hand how it helps tourism!” she stated.  “Because of its effect on local businesses when an area has Rail Trail accessibility, this is why there is such a driving force right now for connectivity.  States want to link all of these trails to bring added visitors to their area.  Because of its length, the North Bend Rail Trail gets a lot of coverage in the tourism department, so with the Doddridge and Harrison end of the trail fixed, it will be a major enhancement,” she concluded.

The North Bend Rail Trail welcomes hikers, bikers and  equestrian horses.  On Friday, June 2nd, North Bend will be celebrating National Trail Day.  Beginning at 8:30 p.m., North Bend will feature a ‘Luminary Hike”, with its trail and tunnel lit with luminaries and the history of its trail and tunnel will be shared – along with ghost stories!