Wood County Commission supports rail trail land purchase

Photo by Brett Dunlap Tim Meeks of the Mid-Ohio Valley Regional Council and Mark Abbott, president of the North Bend Rails To Trails Foundation, look at a map during Thursday’s meeting of the Wood County Commission as Wood County Clerk Mark Rhodes looks on.

PARKERSBURG — The Wood County Commission will act as a fiscal agent so a group can purchase two miles of former railroad tracts to be turned into trails.

The commission unanimously approved to act as the fiscal agent for the North Bend Rails To Trails Foundation as it applies for money to purchase just over two miles, to take the North Bend Rail Trail from I-77 into Corning Park within Parkersburg.

Mark Abbott, president of the North Bend Rails To Trails Foundation, appeared before the commission Thursday to ask for the commission’s support in the project.

“It has been our dream for many years to purchase an additional rail bed to get the North Bend Rail Trail right into downtown Parkersburg,” Abbott said. “It would then become the western terminus of the North Bend Rail Trail. That will give us an opportunity to connect with the Parkersburg city trails to Point Park.”

The North Bend Rail Trail is around 71 miles and now ends near the I-77 and W.Va. 47 intersection.

In the past, CSX has been reluctant to sell its property. However, the company is under new management and is divesting itself of property, Abbott said.

“That really works to our favor,” Abbott said.

An appraisal of a mile of property came to just over $200,000. Early estimates have the whole tract costing between $400,000-$500,000. Abbott said they are awaiting a final price.

The county would not have any financial commitment to the project with the foundation raising the money to purchase, Abbott said. Groups require a governmental agency to sign on to and co-sponsor the project to be considered for grant funding.

“It is a win-win situation for everyone,” Abbott said.

Abbott said they have met with philanthropic groups and will be asking for donations.

The commission will be the applicant for a Transportation Alternatives Grant being offered through the Federal Highway Administration and administered by the West Virginia Department of Transportation’s Division of Highways.

The Intent to Apply paperwork must be in by Nov. 17. If approved, the final application would be due Jan. 18.

Under an 80-20 grant match the foundation is looking at, it would need to raise around $100,000 if the purchase price for the land is around $500,000.

“We will be the people who will raise those funds to be able to purchase,” Abbott said.

Eventually, they would like to connect, using the Parkersburg-Belpre Bridge, with the Athens to Belpre Rail Trail.

As for the property under consideration, Abbott estimates it could take two to three years before there is a functioning rail trail.

“We will find the money,” Abbott said.

Groups are working to secure a four-mile gap near Clarksburg with the North Bend Rail Trail.

“The North Bend Rail Trail will become the southern anchor of what is referred to as the Industrial Heartlands Trail, a 1,400-mile trail that runs through West Virginia, Ohio, Pennsylvania and New York,” Abbott said.

Getting to Corning Park can create opportunities for kayaking and other outdoor activities. The trail would be used for hiking, bicycling and horseback riding, but no ATV riding.

“Once people get a full understanding of what the trail can mean to the community, in terms of tourism and economic development, it is a win-win for everybody,” Abbott said