By Sarah Richardson
At a recent meeting of the White Sulphur Springs City Council, resident and local business owner Clay Elkins presented some exciting information regarding the future of outdoor recreation development in the region.
Recent program affiliations in the Greenbrier Valley, including the Mon Forest Towns program and Ascend West Virginia, have opened new avenues for recreational development. The West Virginia Community Development Hub’s Communities of Achievement program, otherwise known as HubCAP, offers Mon Forest Towns like White Sulphur the opportunity to “accelerate community-led economic development” for local projects.
“The Mon Forest Towns is really a great program, and HubCAP is trying to build on that and wants to extend how long visitors stay in White Sulphur, or Richwood, or Elkins, or whatever MonTown they are a part of,” explained Elkins. “Over the winter of 2020 we sent out a survey, and that went through the newspapers, through social media, and a couple other ways, and a lot of people filled it out. It was asking what we would like to see happen in White Sulphur, what is needed to keep making the community better. One hundred and seventy folks replied to the survey, and 98 percent of them said that tourism and outdoor recreation were ‘critically important’ and that we need to invest more in tourism and outdoor recreation.”
Top activities named were biking, hiking, a skate park, swimming, and fishing.
“Through the HubCAP program, the group of us chose to work on the bike skills park for our number one project,” Elkins explained. “I learned about this through my daughter and her grandkids, they go to Richmond if they want to ride. People really use these parks as tourist destinations, they go out and they can spend hours out there.”
A skills bike park is an environment where children, teens, or adults can learn essential bicycle riding skills in a safe and fun environment. They are purposefully designed areas with a gravel or dirt surface and various technical and challenging elements. Skills bike parks can be built as unique bike parks in urban areas, or as additions to existing bike parks. This type of park offers a great option to spend time with family and friends in an engaging way while improving riding skills. Areas within the proposed skills park include a pump track, push bike track, a track with progressive jump lines, and shaded areas for spectators.
However, interest in local bike projects goes back even further, with Elkins founding a youth mountain biking team, the Greenbrier Valley Hellbenders, over four years ago, and continuing to serve as their coach.
“We’ve started a youth mountain bike team, which has been incredible. We didn’t really know what we were getting into when we started it, but this is now our fourth year,” said Elkins.
There were only five youth riders in the group for the first year of the team, but now that number has expanded to 30 riders.
“Every year we continue to grow,” he said, “and these are middle and high school kids. It’s a great way to build some awesome humans. It’s not just about racing, it’s about teaching kids to be good people.”
He said that progress on the bike park really kicked into high gear when they reached out to the Ascend West Virginia program for guidance. Ascend helped the group secure a grant for a total comprehensive trail plan in the Greenbrier Valley, and now they are putting together further “umbrella” plans for White Sulphur, Ronceverte, Lewisburg, and surrounding areas.
Mayor Bruce Bowling added, “We’ve been talking about this for around a year now, and these guys have really done a lot of work.”
While HubCAP provided funding for design work and technical assistance, the remainder of the project will be funded through grants and donations. While in this preliminary phase, different locations for the park have been floated, and members of City Council have voiced resounding support for the project.
“I appreciate the city’s support, and the community’s support. We are really excited,” said Elkins. “I think this is really just a first phase. When we look at that comprehensive plan that should come out in the next few months, they’re going to try to figure out ways to tie everything together. When the Ascend folks came out here they were amazed. They said, ‘You simply do not see towns that are this close to this much public land on the east coast.’”