My site is a four-county Heritage Tourism initiative that started in 2013 between Doddridge, Gilmer, Ritchie and Tyler counties. Our goal was to identify the historic and cultural assets that all four counties have in common and promote them as thematic trails packages. One of the most-used assets in our region is the North Bend Rail Trail.
The North Bend Rail Trail is a recreational trail for cyclists, hikers and equestrian enthusiasts. It is operated by West Virginia State Parks and at one point passes through North Bend State Park near Cairo in Ritchie County. Once simply an abandoned railroad, the trail is now part of the 5,500 mile coast-to-coast American Discovery Trail. Stretching 72 scenic miles, the North Bend Rail Trail passes through thirteen tunnels and crosses 36 bridges. The trail runs from Wood to Harrison counties and traverses the full east-west length of Doddridge and Ritchie counties. Since the North Bend Rail Trail is one of our largest regional attractions and given the fact that I am also a North Bend Rails to Trails Foundation board member, I take a particular interest in the trail.
Earlier this year the North Bend Rail Trail was chosen by the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy as one of their 2016 sojourn trails. Each year the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy selects a series of rail trails throughout various states to highlight the impact that long-distance trail networks have on America’s communities. These events bring together hundreds of riders to utilize and celebrate trails. A major benefit of the sojourn program is to draw attention to trail gaps in potential regional trail systems, connection of which could result in major economic, health and environmental improvements.
For this year’s sojourn, over 130 cyclists paid up to $500 to attend what was to be called the Wild and Wonderful North Bend Trail Sojourn, a four-day, three-night event scheduled to kick-off on June 19, 2016 in Parkersburg. The ages of the cyclists ranged anywhere from 7 to 77 years of age. Only one participant was from West Virginia.
The North Bend Rails to Trails Foundation, the nonprofit organization who manages the North Bend Rail Trail, was tasked with the responsibility of providing accommodations and entertainment for the nearly 130 cyclists as they traveled through each county. The Foundation asked local government agencies, historical societies, and businesses to work together to beautify their communities and ensure that local interest sites were staffed and opened for the participants for the four-day event.
As requested, each county coordinated clean-up projects that coincided with the WV Make It Shine Program. Several truckloads of trash, tires, etc., were picked up along the trail. Towns spruced up their storefronts, set up signage and put together promotional packages so that sojourners would have some local information about each community that they would travel through.
The event kicked off from Parkersburg as scheduled on June 19th. With few exceptions, everything went as planned. The bikers not only stopped for a bite to eat, they also toured the many historic districts, museums, depots and gift shops along the way. Overnight accommodations were provided at North Bend State Park on the initial and return legs of the journey, as well as in Salem, Harrison County, at the midpoint. The numerous tunnels on the trail seemed to be one of the most popular attractions. The event was a huge success on all levels. Local reporters received a lot of positive comments from the participants. One lady from Richmond, Virginia said, “This is an absolutely beautiful state, one of those hidden gems.” Another cyclist said of the local people, “They’re so friendly and engaging and hospitable.”
We have not received the compiled data from the Conservancy yet, but we hope to use the report and recommendations from the sojourners to make the much needed repairs and connections that will allow the North Bend Rail Trail to become a more integral part of the American Discovery Trail.
Hosting an event of this magnitude was not an easy task. I participated in the four month planning phase as a North Bend Rail Trail board member (outside of my AmeriCorps service time), I recruited and managed volunteers on clean-up projects as an AmeriCorps member, gave historical tours in Doddridge County as a Historical Society member and did all that I could to promote an invaluable historic asset for Northwest West Virginia Heritage Byways. In small communities like ours, we all wear many hats. For this event we were able to gather all our resources and pull-off an extremely successful event.