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Report urges Rails-to-Trails project in W.Va.

Document compiled from comments of residents at a public meeting and "trail vision" surveys

Document compiled from comments of residents at a public meeting and "trail vision" surveys

August 06, 2009|By MATTHEW UMSTEAD

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. -- The chance to gain an abandoned railroad line that bridges Interstate 81 north of Martinsburg for potential recreation trail development should be pursued vigorously, according to consultants who have prepared "A Vision for Walking, Biking and Trails in Berkeley County."

"Continuation and persistence in discussions with CSX Transportation in regards to the 3+ miles of abandoned tracks ... seems prudent," states a 16-page report by Eric Oberg and Kelly Pack of Washington D.C.-based Rails-to-Trails Conservancy.

The report, compiled from the comments of more than 30 residents at a July 14 public meeting in Martinsburg and nearly two dozen "trail vision" surveys, also recommends the community pursue a "rail with trail" scenario along the Winchester & Western Railroad track. The active north-south freight line connects Winchester, Va., Martinsburg and Hagerstown.

The work by the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy was made possible by a $5,000 grant the Eastern Panhandle Regional Planning and Development Council (Region 9) received from the Brownfields Foundation for Overcoming Challenges and Utilizing Strengths (FOCUS).

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Carol Crabtree of Region 9 and Matthew Pennington of the Berkeley County Planning Commission were honored Tuesday in Morgantown, W.Va., for the trails project, which Pennington said garnered the highest amount of public involvement among 15 projects recently funded by the Northern West Virginia Brownfields Assistance Center.

According to the consultants, residents want a more walkable downtown Martinsburg and safe bicycle and pedestrian connections from the city to Poor House Farm Park and the C&O Canal towpath. Expansion of the new W.Va. 9 bike path between Martinsburg and Charles Town and development of an "on-road" bicycle route along W.Va. 45 between Martinsburg and Shepherdstown, W.Va., also were identified as points of interest.

Continuing a bike lane that dead-ends by the Food Lion shopping center near Shepherdstown along W.Va. 45 all the way into downtown Martinsburg could serve a lot of students and open new tourism opportunities, Pennington said Thursday.

At a yet-to-be-scheduled follow-up meeting, Pennington said he hopes to reconnect with residents who attended the July session to present the conservancy's report and determine whether participants want to move forward with establishing a group "for long-term trails activity in the region."

"Realistically moving forward ... I think that we need as much public involvement as possible, not only (from) people who are interested in recreation, but who are interested in economic development along trailways," Pennington said.

Pennington said businesses have prospered from the C&O Canal and added that trails could ease congestion on roads, improve air quality and encourage healthier lifestyles.

In their report, Oberg and Pack recommended such a tax-exempt group should consider applying for technical assistance through the National Park Service's Rivers, Trails and Conservation Assistance program to formalize a comprehensive planning effort for trails and greenways. They also suggested a regional plan for bike/pedestrian transportation be added to the master plan of the Hagerstown/Eastern Panhandle Metropolitan Planning Organization.

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