A local company has been chosen to complete the first phase of a 15-mile rail trail project that will run through the Clear Fork Valley in the northwestern corner of Raleigh County.
During a Raleigh County Commission meeting last week, commissioners approved a bid for $1.6 million from Aspen Corporation in Daniels for Phase 1 of the Clear Fork Rail Trail project.
Aspen Corporation was the lowest of three bidders with one company setting its price at upwards of $3 million.
This rail trail project has been roughly eight years in the making and started as an idea from residents in Whitesville to turn an abandoned CSX rail route, which spanned just over 15 miles through the Clear Fork Valley, into a trail.
The first section of multi-use, no-motorized trail is just under eight miles and follows the former CSX railbed along W.Va. 1 in Raleigh County from Jarrolds Valley to Ameagle.
Construction on Phase 1 of the trail will likely begin in about 60 days, said Roger Kennedy, landscape architect and vice president with Chapman Technical Group, the firm hired in 2019 to complete environmental studies, remediation and the overall design of the trail.
Kennedy said this portion of the trail is expected to take six months to complete and will be open to the public while work is being done on Phase 2 of the trail.
Raleigh County Parks and Recreation Authority Executive Director Molly Williams said the trail will be a recreational opportunity for resident and visitors.
“This is the next step into a phenomenal trail and so we’re excited to finally get to this point, and hopefully get some shovels in the ground soon,” Williams said.
Kennedy said local businesses are already itching for construction of the trail to begin.
“I know there’s one business on the Clear Fork Trail right now . . . they’ve got a restaurant there and they are really fired up about seeing more customers and visitors on the trail,” he said.
Kennedy said the hope is that the trail also helps spur new businesses and entice entrepreneurs to the area.
“Projects like this that I’ve worked on – once they’re in place, you start seeing people coming in from, really, all over the world,” he said. “I worked on a similar trail project and we’re working on the trail one day and a family came down on their bicycles and one of the riders was from Italy, coming to lil’ ol’ West Virginia. That’s the kind of exposure that these types of projects bring to the county and the communities.”
Funding for Phase I of the Clear Fork Rail Trail has already been secured, including a WV Department of Environmental Protection Abandoned Mine Lands Economic Revitalization Grant totaling $2.25 million.
Funds are also coming from the Raleigh County Commission and the National Coal Heritage Authority for an estimated total project cost of $2,539,360.
Phase 2 of the project is approximately 6.87 miles and stretches from the Ameagle community to McDowell Hollow in the Clear Creek Crossing community. This phase is expected to cost more than $7 million.
Funding for Phase II is still in the works, and the county is looking to secure millions in grant funding from multiple sites including the Appalachian Regional Commission, WV Department of Environmental Protection Abandoned Mine Lands Economic Revitalization and U.S. EPA Brownfields Cleanup Grant Programs.
Josephine E. Moore The Register-herald Jmoore@register-herald.com