In 2014, the town of Whitesville, WV, population 500, won more than 10,000 votes in support of the community taking part in Turn This Town Around, an initiative administered by The Hub in partnership with the Benedum Foundation and New South Media.
At the program’s first meeting in 2015, 143 of the town’s residents participated in a brainstorming session of possibilities to improve the area and local economy. Their perspective delivered 20 ideas for small projects, such as new street signage, planters and murals – along with one bold idea to address economic development and transform a rail corridor into a multi-use recreational rail trail.
Today, the Clear Fork Rail Trail is almost a reality.
An opportunity presented itself for funding last month when the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection announced the 2017 AML Economic and Community Development Pilot Program. The proposed rail trail corridor and an abandoned mine intersect, offering the opportunity to reclaim the site and develop the Clear Fork Rail Trail during the process. Whitesville and the project partners are now anxiously awaiting the decision of the grant committee. They expect to hear from the committee in mid-September.
Approval of the Clear Fork Rail Trail proposal will green-light Whitesville’s most ambitious Turn This Town Around project to date.
The rail trail will help build up the community and transform the town of Whitesville into a recreational trail destination.
The trail will span 15.2 miles through the scenic Clear Fork Valley. Three staging areas will offer public access with the possibility to establish private bicycle rental and shuttle services from Whitesville. Signage along the trail will allow users to interpret the relation of industry and immigration while enjoying the natural surroundings.
Typical of any bold idea, community members and project partners did the homework. Engineers from Chapman Technical Group performed the initial feasibility study and later performed a structural assessment of the trestles. Concord University and West Virginia University’s College of Business and Economics assisted by providing insight to potential outcomes from trail development.
Progress, combining thousands of volunteer hours, public support, new private investments and ranging attitudes of optimism and grit prove Whitesville is still turning. Though premature to claim the town is turned around, Whitesville is now a visibly different place turning firmly toward the future.
The following people and groups signed on to support the Clear Fork Rail Trail:
- Senators Shelly Capito and Joe Manchin
- State Senator Ron Stollings
- Delegate Rodney Miller
- Boone County Commission
- Raleigh County Commission
- Town of Whitesville
- Region I Planning and Development Council
- New River Gorge Regional Development Authority
- National Coal Heritage Area Authority
- West Virginia Community Development Hub
- Active Southern West Virginia
- Visit Southern West Virginia
- The National Park Service/Rivers, Trails and Conservation Assistance Program