WHEELING - A new Belmont County group hopes to start two trail projects in the county that could link East Ohio to Wheeling's bike trail, and then to Washington, D.C.
The Ohio Valley Trail Association hosts its first meeting at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday at Panera Bread on the Ohio Valley Mall property.
Doug Wayt, president of the existing Ohio Valley Trail Partners in Wheeling, said his group is supporting the Belmont County effort, and he also is involved with the new Ohio Valley Trail Association.
"The group is really just getting started," he said. "Our goal is to develop trails that will help connect communities, encourage wellness and utilize the natural resources the county has to offer. Also, the trails should help to improve and encourage economic development."
The Ohio Valley Trail Association hopes to start its work by developing two trail heads - one in eastern Belmont County in the Aetnaville Bridge area, and one in the western part of the county at the Barnesville B&O depot site, Wayt said.
"This will involve grants and a lot of volunteerism," he said. "The overall goal is to connect these communities with existing trails.
"We're hopeful the first two projects will be complete in 2014. We're looking for support from citizens, businesses and community activists, both inside and outside Belmont County."
Both the Ohio Valley Trail Association and the Ohio Valley Trail Partners are interested in developing the Aetnaville Bridge and its adjacent area into a safe trail connecting Ohio with West Virginia and Wheeling's bike trail. The bridge is owned by the state of West Virginia.
"Our goal is to get (a continuous trail) to Weirton, but we still need seven more miles in Brooke County," Wayt said. " Once we get to Weirton, you can get by trail from there to Washington, D.C."
Once the trail through Brooke County is completed, there will be 430 miles of continuous trail from Wheeling to Washington, D.C., according to Wayt. Developing the Aetnaville Bridge area adds another five miles, he continued.
The second trail head in Barnesville would start by expanding the trail at the village-owned B&O Depot westward about a mile toward a nearby tunnel, he explained.
"The goal is to get it to Guernsey County," Wayt said. "Guernsey County already has a trail, and this one could meet up with it."
The west trail head also could extend east from Barnesville to St. Clairsville and on to the Ohio River area, where it could eventually hook on to the Aetnaville Bridge trail area.
Additional plans then could take the trail south toward Powhatan Point.
Wayt noted the trail groups are not certain how much the projects will cost, but he believes the initial trail head projects in Aetnaville and Barnesville will not be very expensive, as the property already is publicly owned.
"We already know trails impact communities, impact real estate value and have brought in new businesses," he said. "The sad thing is there are too many people who don't think we need trails. They don't see big picture, and how much it can help."