By Stephen Baldwin, RealWV
Residents, students, and officials gathered at Greenbrier West High School last Friday morning to share plans for Phase 3 of the Meadow River Trail.
Stretching over 23 miles across Fayette and Greenbrier counties, the Meadow River Trail is a picturesque trail featuring multiple bridges and whitewater. It will allow people outdoor recreational opportunities including hiking, biking, fishing, horseback riding, whitewater, flatwater, cross country skiing, rock climbing, and camping.
“It’s a big day,” began Matt Ford, Project Coordinator for the Meadow River Trail in Greenbrier and Fayette counties. “Not only is this something for local citizens to do in the great outdoors, but it drives economic development and literally connects us to the new national park.”
Andy Davis, New River Gorge Economic Development Authority, echoes Ford’s optimism on the economic impact of the trail, saying, “It’s impressive to see how patient and effective everyone has been in this process. By extending the existing infrastructure and connecting it to each other, we will see economic development.”
“People always used to tell me, ‘There’s no money in recreation or tourism,’” offers Ford, “but that’s not true.”
The Elk River Trail in the Clendenin area is expected to bring over $390 million annually into the local economy.
“Our trail impact may not be that big,” Matt says, “but imagine if it brought half that. We are already seeing with the Rainelle Deli & Marketplace, for example, that new businesses can work here in Rainelle. The more visitors we get, the more businesses we can have and the more students who can stay here to live and work.”
Multiple phases of construction
Back in 2008, a group of residents envisioned a new trail along an old section of railroad along the Meadow River. The late Doug Hylton spearheaded the project, which began construction in 2014. The first bridge was completed in 2015, before the great flood of 2016 wiped it and the entire trail out.
Matt Ford stepped into a leadership role over the last few years, coordinating efforts between the Fayette County Commission and the Greenbrier County Commission.
His name has become synonymous with the trail. So much so that one student asked at the conclusion of today’s presentation, “Where is the statue going?”
Looking dumbfounded, the architect replied, “Which statue?”
“The one of Matt Ford,” the student said with a grin. “He got this done.”
And Matt has been busy the last few years, with a rail trail project unfolding in three phases. Phase 1 was a 16.7 mile stretch of trail, Phase 2 was the replacement of the Russellville Bridge, and Phase 3 is the final 6.4 miles.
Phase 1 is complete, with a ribbon-cutting expected this summer. Phase 2 will be completed this summer as well, with the new bridge at Russellville on the way currently. It’s being trucked in from Alabama in pieces. Phase 3 will begin this fall.
What is Phase 3?
Todd Schoolcraft is a landscape architect for the E.L Robinson Engineering Firm. He is the project lead for Phase 3 and presented an update to the community at the meeting about their design plans which came about with the assistance of Greenbrier West students.
According to Schoolcraft, Phase 3 includes an entry pavilion at the Rainelle head of the trail, signage and benches along the trail, parking improvements, rock sculptures, culvert replacements, slope repairs, and two small bridge replacements.
The Surbaugh Creek Bridge spans 50 feet. It was demolished in the 2016 flood as well. A brand new bridge constructed of weathered steel with a wood deck will be installed in its place.
The Laurel Creek Bridge remains standing but is in need of a new deck and handrails, which will be completed as part of Phase 3.
Students will participate in choosing the subject of educational signage along the trail as well as perhaps helping construct the signs at school. Potential topics for the educational signage includes a history of the Meadow River Lumber Company, a history of the Green Siding Mine, and stories from the Dwyer and/or Honeydew communities.
Cost & timeline
In total, the Meadow River Trail is nearly a $6 million project. Phase 1 came in at a cost of $2 million, Phase 2 cost $1.3 million, and Phase 3 is estimated at $2 million.
Ford worked to assemble funding from multiple sources over the last few years to cover the cost. Funding sources include FEMA, WV Transportation Alternative Safety Program, Greenbrier County Commission, Fayette County Commission, and state economic development funds secured by former Senator Stephen Baldwin.
Schoolcraft and Ford anticipate Phase 3 being complete by the spring of 2025. Other areas of the trail will be open before then.
Stay tuned to The Real WV for updates on the Meadow River Trail this summer.