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Trail enthusiasts dream big at meeting

July 14, 2009|By MATTHEW UMSTEAD

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. -- At a meeting Tuesday where dreaming big ideas for recreation trails was encouraged, the "ultimate" possibility in Steve Catlett's mind for Berkeley County was building a trail along the Winchester & Western railroad line to the C&O Canal.

"How awesome would that be?" said Catlett, executive director of the Martinsburg-Berkeley County Parks & Recreation Board.

The meeting at the Robert C. Byrd Health Sciences Center Eastern Division in Martinsburg was facilitated by Rails-to-Trails Conservancy officials and Matthew Pennington of the Berkeley County Planning Commission.

The informal session to develop a trails implementation plan was made possible by a $5,000 grant that the Eastern Panhandle Regional Planning and Development Council (Region 9) received from the Brownfields Foundation for Overcoming Challenges and Utilizing Strengths (FOCUS) in West Virginia Mini Grant Project.

A preliminary report compiling feedback about points of interest cited by trail enthusiasts Tuesday and "trail vision" surveys is expected to be prepared by Aug. 3, said Kelly Pack, manager of trail development at the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy's national office in Washington, D.C.

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Pennington said the trail vision survey is still available on the Berkeley County Commission's Web site, www.berkeleycountycomm.org, for people who were unable to attend Tuesday's meeting.

The creation of recreational trails and walking paths were top priorities in a survey conducted in conjunction with Berkeley County's 2006 comprehensive plan, according to survey results.

Eric Oberg, of the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy's Midwest regional office, told the audience Tuesday that there is a lot of opportunity in the area to develop "water trails," essentially using existing streams, such as Opequon Creek.

Pack said the Conservancy is seeing more trails being built alongside active rail lines.

Winchester & Western's rail line is a freight route from Winchester, Va., through Berkeley County across the Potomac River to Hagerstown. Catlett said he believed it was rare for trains to travel the single track more than once a day.

The rail-trail could be an artery for other trails throughout the county, Catlett said.

A more pressing concern is improving pedestrian access to the Parks & Recreation Board's indoor skate park now under development at the intersection of Kelly Island Road and W.Va. 9.

Located on the southeast corner of the busy intersection, Catlett said a western extension of a trail now under construction along the new route for W.Va. 9 east of Martinsburg would improve safety for young people who want to go there but who lack transportation.

"That's what their concern is," Catlett said.

Max Squires of Martinsburg said at the meeting that he believes the development of a trail along Tuscarora Creek from Poorhouse Farm Park through Martinsburg to Opequon Creek near Stonebridge Golf Club is a good idea that needs to be revisited.

"Hopefully, the people who opposed it have moved away by now," Squires said.

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