House Speaker Roger Hanshaw, R-Clay, proudly hosted state and local officials last week for a ribbon cutting on the Buffalo Creek Recreational Trail, a project he’s helped advocate for as both a member of the Legislature and as a member of the Clay County Business Development Authority Board.
Today’s ribbon cutting marks the official start to a $5.6 million railroad infrastructure repair project set to begin next week. FEMA funds from 2016 flooding are being used to repair 14 miles of infrastructure central to the 18.2-mile Buffalo Creek and Gauley Railroad. The railroad, originally used to haul coal in 1904 will be restored to a condition allowing it to haul coal, timber and other materials in the future when it also will become part of the Elk River Trail State Park. The flat and wide right-of-way required for the railroad allows for a trail system to run alongside the railroad, where excursion train rides and rail biking already bring outdoor enthusiasts to the newly designated Elk River Trail State Park area.
“Almost every Saturday morning, I come to Clay,” Hanshaw said at the event. “I stop at GoMart, and go to the bank, get a haircut and do what it is I do in Clay. I came home a couple weekends ago remarked to my wife, Kirsten, and our little girls who are here that I saw more people on the streets of Clay than I think I had seen at any time in my life.
“I’m 41 years old, and I saw more people on the streets in Clay that Saturday than I think I had seen at any other time, other than Golden Delicious Festival weekend. This trail is transforming our community. It’s transforming our county, it’s transforming the entire Elk River watershed.”
Hanshaw said that importance cannot be overstated, especially because the area’s economy is in transition, and has been searching for new life for nearly two generations, but this trail and the economic benefits it will bring to the local economy can help provide that. The trail, when it’s complete, would be one of the longest in the eastern United States, making it possible for someone to start at Capitol Market in Charleston and get off in Burnsville, in Braxton County, roughly 80 miles north, allowing for economic impacts all the way up and down the Elk River system.
“The State Park system that’s now come into existence and FEMA-funded restoration work we’re here this morning to commemorate, without the Clay County Business Development Authority, none of that would be possible,” Hanshaw said. “These men and women have worked so hard to make this possible, and none harder than President Mitch DeBoard.”
Hanshaw thanked the governor for supporting the new state park designation for the area, the local community for providing feedback and local leaders for helping to further the project. He also noted the presence of Clay Town Council members, Clay Mayor and Clay County Commission members as well as representatives for U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., U.S. Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., and U.S. Rep. Alex Mooney, R-W.Va.
See Allen Hamrick’s story on the trail inside this edition.