By Doug Hylton
Construction has begun on the long awaited Meadow River Rail Trail which encompasses 16.7 miles along the former Nicholas, Fayette and Greenbrier Rail Line. “This is wonderful news,” comments Karen Lobban, president of the Greenbrier County Commission. “We have been working for over six years to see this project become a reality.” Approximately one mile of the trail has been completed to include the reinforcement of a trestle crossing the Meadow River at Russellville and the construction of a gravel trail bed leading into both counties.
The project began in 2008 when CSX, Incorporated announced the abandonment of the former rail line. The Fayette and Greenbrier County Commissions partnered in this trail effort creating “Team Leaders” to oversee this project. Doug Hylton, Greenbrier County Team Leader, has been working with CSX, the Division of Highways, the National Park Service and others to secure the ownership of the property for the two county commissions.
“We first had to open discussions with CSX, Incorporated over this project. Another group has first opted to purchase the trail but once they pulled out, the two county commissions jumped at the chance to purchase this property,” explains Hylton. “We had to create the partnerships, look at funding through grants, and follow procedures to include appraisals, environmental studies and contract negotiations.”
This trail project represents the first partnership by two county commissions toward the purchase and development of a recreation trail in West Virginia. The trail is located in the northeastern part of Fayette County and runs along the Meadow River into northwestern Greenbrier County. “It is our hope that this trail will be as economically and recreationally important to Greenbrier County as the Greenbrier River Trail,” continued Lobban. While the trail ends approximately 5.2 miles from Rainelle, the commission hopes to continue working with CSX Incorporated to obtain the right of way to bring the trail into Rainelle, making that town an important trail head. On the Fayette County side, plans call to extend the trail and make connection with other recreation trails such as in Babcock State Park.
It is estimated by the National Park Service that it cost $100,000 per mile for the creation of a rail trail. Since 2009, when the Greenbrier County Commission received their first recreation grant from the Division of Highways, they have used funds to complete the purchase of the former rail line. “Our first grant was an American Recovery and Reinvestment Act Grant for $264,000,” said Hylton. The final cost of the rail line from CSX Incorporated was $126,800 and was completed in 2012. The Trail Team has worked since 2009 to obtain additional funding for the trail which is now under design to prepare for continued construction. To date over $1,292,000 in grants have been received for this project. The two county commissions have paid the required match of $273,000 to make a total of $1,565,000 that is available for the Meadow River Trail project.