Work on final leg of bike trail to start

PARKERSBURG – A bicycle and multi-use trail more than 15 years in the making is planned to be completed this year.

Parkersburg-based 3D Construction is slated to start work March 10 on a 3,400-foot segment extending the Little Kanawha Connector, which starts near Point Park, from near the East Street Bridge along East and Mary streets and West Virginia 47 out to the city limits at Corning Park.

Plans for the path were submitted to the state in the late ’90s, but funding for completion has only become available in recent years, Parkersburg Mayor Bob Newell said.

“It goes back a ways,” he said. “The whole purpose was to get it to the (North Bend Rail Trail) out there by the college.”

The 72-mile trail covering portions of Wood, Ritchie, Doddridge and Harrison counties ends on Happy Valley Road near West Virginia University at Parkersburg. That’s about three miles from the end of the Little Kanawha Connector once the project is completed this summer.

“Now the city’s done all they can do when that’s done,” said Kim Coram, a Parkersburg city councilwoman and coordinator for the Wood County Alternative Transportation Council.

Then it will be up to the county, including the council Coram heads, to make the final connection.

“This three-mile connection connects us to a 1,400-mile network,” she said, referring to a network of trails winding through 52 counties in West Virginia, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Maryland and New York.

That includes the Greater Alleghenies Passage, which goes from Pittsburgh to Cumberland, Md., and sees $40 million a year in retail sales along its length, Coram said. She’d like to see a Pittsburgh to Parkersburg connection in that mold.

Wood County Commission President Wayne Dunn said he supports the connection, but there will be some logistical hurdles to overcome before it becomes a reality. The most direct route would be to parallel railroad tracks through the area, but there are rights of way and other issues to be addressed.

“We’ve talked about alternate routes along that connector trail as a backup if we have to,” Dunn said.

The next step, though, is the completion of the Little Kanawha Connector, for which the city received a $285,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Highways Administration through the Congestion, Mitigation and Air Quality Improvement Program.

Parkersburg Development Director Rickie Yeager said the project will add sidewalks along both sides of Mary Street in front of the Boys and Girls Club of Parkersburg, including a bike lane on one side.

“It’s going to be a multi-use path going both ways,” Yeager said.

Boys and Girls Club executive director Ben Shuman is looking forward to the project.

“One of our primary concerns is child safety,” he said. “The walkability of this particular part of the neighborhood has been pretty low,” pointing to limited sections of sidewalk.

Once Mary Street reaches Staunton Avenue, a part of W.Va. 47, the path becomes a shared-use one, with bicycles sharing the road with vehicles.

Newell noted the trail will not dead-end at Corning Park, since bicycles can access Corridor D in that area and ride alongside U.S. 50 if they choose.

Yeager said the Little Kanawha Connector completes the main east-west trail through the city. Efforts are now turning to the River Trail, intended to link Parkersburg to Williamstown by bike.

“We’re going to go out with Vienna (officials) on Saturday and scout the Vienna part of that,” Coram said.