Rails for Trails

IMAGINE STEPPING onto a trail in Barnesville and walking without interruption all the way to George Washington’s estate in Mt. Vernon.

It’s a real possibility. The path is completed from Mt. Vernon to the Wheeling area, with active plans to stretch it farther west across Belmont County to the Great Guernsey Trail and beyond.

The Rails to Trails project is a nationwide effort to create a network of interconnected trails from former rail lines and connecting corridors. The motivation is multi-faceted: promoting health and wellness, spurring economic development, preserving rail corridors and more.

Currently, the Guernsey County Community Development Corporation is in the land acquisition process of the project. The CDC is purchasing land, previously owned by rail companies and now in the possession of mostly private landowners.

It’s a lengthy and sometimes in-depth process. The CDC has to speak and negotiate with each landowner. Who actually owns the land isn’t always clear and can result in a comprehensive search through old records.

“The acquisition phase is probably the toughest because we have to put all the pieces together,” said Dan Speedy, executive director of the Guernsey County CDC.

And sometimes the landowner isn’t willing to sell. “If the landowner isn’t willing to sell, we can’t make them,” Speedy said. While some might change their minds, the CDC must also consider re-routing the trail.

The land in Belmont County that is acquired will eventually transfer ownership to the Belmont County Community Development Corporation, which is not yet fully formed.

“At this point (the project) will be under the guidance of the Guernsey County Community Development Corporation,” said Belmont County Commissioner Ginny Favede.

“(Dan Speedy) is going to oversee the creation of a mirror organization in Belmont County, which will be the Belmont County Community Development Corporation. It will be a parent company that will oversee this project and once it’s put into place these properties that are going to be purchased … will be deeded over to the Belmont County Community Development Corporation,” she said.

Village of Barnesville and other government officials stated their support of the project also.

“We’re very supportive of their efforts a community working together and providing a place to work and enjoy living and enjoy the natural beauty that eastern Ohio offers,” said Larry Merry, director of the Belmont County Port Authority.

It’s all part of the port authority’s goal: economic development. Recreational development goes hand-in-hand with quality of life — allowing people to live, work and play in the same area, Merry said.

It also attracts people from other areas. When tourists come to walk or bike the trail, they are likely to grab lunch at a local restaurant, pick up a bottle of water from the store or add a museum visit as part of their trip.

“It’s tremendous when you have a village Lore City for example, with a population of 300 and you have 300 visitors. That’s an impact,” Speedy said.

The east-west portion of the trail will connect with the National Road Bikeway in St. Clairsville as well. Plans also include a trail extending north, from Barnesville to Piedmont.

The Barnesville Area Rails to Trail Committee is also involved in the project. The BARTC is a volunteer organization focused on the 3.25 miles of village-owned rail corridor in the village’s corporation limits.

“Our aim is get that section of trail developed and in use,” BARTC President Rich Sidwell said.

BARTC, which formed in 2003, is searching for funding sources for many improvement projects, which include paving, landscaping and beautifying the trail. It also has plans to light the tunnel that runs under Main Street, near the Depot, as well as restoration work including structural repair, stabilization and drainage to the tunnel.

The Guernsey County CDC’s efforts with the Rails to Trails project have been beneficial to the BARTC, Sidwell said, when it comes to researching and acquiring grants. BARTC also has small improvement projects it is moving further with that will be funded with money raised privately.

The BARTC welcomes volunteers and members. The committee meets the second Tuesday of the month at the Watt Center. During colder months, meetings are relocated to members’ homes. For information about membership or volunteer opportunities, call secretary Sharon Hanse at (740) 425-1483.

A Rails to Trails 5K Run/Walk will be held Saturday, May 15, at 8:30 a.m. at the Depot in Barnesville. Proceeds benefit the Rails to Trails project and the Barnesville Track Parents Booster Club. For more information, contact director Carl A. Kondrach at (740) 425-2535 or carlkondrach@yahoo.com.