Karen Carper, founder and president of Allegheny Highlands Trail Organization and Foundation, spoke to the Buckhannon Rotary Club about the Blackwater Canyon Leaf Peepers Trail Ride slated for Saturday.
The ride begins at 1 p.m. with riders taking off from the Purple Fiddle Coffeehouse in Thomas and rolling on to the Parsons City Park pavilion for a bicycle raffle drawing. According to information provided to the club, "Blackwater Canyon is renowned for its scenic vistas and sites of historical interest." The trail isn't paved and may be too rigorous for inexperienced riders.
"The Blackwater Canyon is pretty much the crown jewel of this trail if it ever becomes available," Carper said. "Unfortunately, that property is not available, and we do not know if it will be.
"But we continue to host a ride annually."
The ride started in 1998, before any construction had occurred on the trail project.
"We wanted to show off that potential of what exists in the Blackwater Canyon," Carper said.
All riders are required to wear helmets. Children under the age of 18 who wish to participate must be accompanied by an adult. About 55 riders participated in the ride last year.
"Providing opportunities for safe bicycle recreation is a huge contribution to the health and quality of life in the community," Carper said, adding that organizations creating these types of events "create a significant contribution to the community," because of their attraction to visitors. Of last year's 55 participants, Carper said that 40 were from out of town.
"We continue to do this because of the importance of this railroad creating both a recreational asset and as a historic asset to the state of West Virginia," Carper said.
Carper also spoke to the club about the developmental history of the trail and its benefits to Randolph and Tucker County. The trail project is supported by the Randolph County and the Tucker County development authorities, which started in 1995. The Recreational Trails Program awarded grant funding for the project.
Carper said that as the initial construction was ready to proceed, the West Virginia Division of Highways contacted the trail organization proposing to build the trail with funds for Corridor H, and the organization accepted the offer.
The trail from Elkins to Parsons was built in 2001, and was extended from Parsons to Hendricks in 2003. According to Carper, the Randolph County Development Authority has funding for the final mile from the southern trail head at Highland Park to the trail head in Elkins. Carper said she hopes the construction will begin in 2013.
"We're really hopeful that it will move forward at this time," Carper said, adding that the funding was awarded in 2009 and the studies are complete for the final aspect of the project. "We're looking for design and construction."
For more information about the trail visit www.higlandstrail.org or call 304-637-7505.
Carper's presentation about the trail sparked interest among the audience. Gordon Blackley, a cyclist in attendance got up to speak about geocaching and said that there were 24 geocaches along the trail from Highland Park to Hendricks. He said they're pretty easy for people to find, "for the most part."
"I urge you to make use of this," Blackley said.
"There's a unique opportunity in the eastern side at Selbyville," Tim Higgins, the owner and operator of Laurel Creek Trading, said regarding an old track that runs about 9 miles to the Upshur-Randolph border. "To turn that into a rail trail to me is just an unbelievable opportunity at that juncture. The Buckhannon River along there is just the most beautiful section of the river."
In other matters, Upshur County Schools Superintendent Scott Lampinen requested that everyone get a code from U.S. Cellular and vote for Buckhannon-Upshur High School to win a cash prize. The school plans to use the award for Destination Graduation and also will share the prize with schools throughout the county.