Wood commissioners approve trails council

PARKERSBURG – Following a public hearing Monday, Wood County commissioners approved legislation that creates an alternative transportation council to facilitate, coordinate and plan area trail systems.

A draft of the proposed legislation was submitted earlier by Kim Coram of the Hiking and Biking Trails Coalition. The commissioners turned over the proposal to Prosecutor Jason Wharton for review. Wharton advised the commissioners they have authority to create such an entity.

No one attended Monday’s hearing to object to the proposal.

“This will organize and centralize what we are trying to do with regard to hiking and biking trails and those trails enhance the community,” commission President Wayne Dunn said.

“The areas that have adopted these models have seen economic growth. It’s very compelling. There are a number of projects in the works like the trail by the floodwall, but there is no organized group coordinating it,” Coram said.

“I think this council is mandatory if we are going to move forward with these projects,” Dunn said. “At some point would you like to have a full-time county employee on it; having someone who is here everyday tends to get it done.”

Coram said the city of Parkersburg applied for bike-friendly community status, but it was turned down. “One of the things they noted was that we needed someone on staff as a representative.”

Commissioner Blair Couch suggested the word advisory be added to the council’s name.

“That probably needs to be clearly spelled out; the council would not be able to apply for grants without a government agency; the council would be advisory to the host governmental entity,” Couch said.

Coram noted a clearinghouse is crucial to the success of these types of projects.

“We have gone through past studies; some that were probably very costly; having a clearinghouse is crucial,” she said. “It’s all about connectivity and we all need to work together. When you think of transportation, you wouldn’t plan a highway without collaboration.”

Coram said the newly created council would work under the county commission and report directly to the commissioners.

“I think it lessens the power by adding the word advisory,” Dunn said. “The cities will also be involved.”

In February Coram was hired by the county commission to draft proposed legislation, help organize the trails council and report back to the commission. The commissioners agreed to pay $2,500 for that work.

“I have talked with the other officials including the mayor and we have verbal conformation,” Coram said.

The commissioners voted unanimously to accept the legislation as proposed with no changes.

Under the proposed legislation, the council would be made up of representatives appointed by the county commission, municipalities, Mid-Ohio Valley Regional Council, West Virginia Department of Transportation, West Virginia Department of State Parks, Wood County Parks and local history groups. The members would serve two years, without pay, but could seek reimbursement for expenses.

The council would facilitate a countywide system of interconnected landscape linkages, conservation corridors, greenbelts, transportation and recreational corridors and trails, regional parks and preserves, ecological sites, cultural/historic/recreation sites using land-based trails that connect urban, suburban and rural areas of the county and facilitate creation and expansion of the countywide system of water trails.

The council would create, implement and maintain a master plan for the Wood County Alternative Transportation System, maintain an inventory of the system, recommend priorities in the trails system, promote greenways and trails, support organizations, and support the system through engineering, education, enforcement, encouragement and evaluation. Development of the trails would probably come from grant funding, Coram said earlier.