Adventure seekers from across the country will soon have a new opportunity to enjoy West Virginia’s natural beauty. Gov. Jim Justice announced last week that the state plans to build a major rail trail along the Elk River and Buffalo Creek.
The state has signed a letter of intent to purchase the land needed to complete the project, which aims to utilize 72 miles of existing rail lines in Clay and Kanawha counties and either repurpose the tracks for recreational purposes or convert them into trails for walking, hiking, biking and more.
The planned trail network has the potential to become the second-longest rail trail east of the Mississippi.
“I’ve said for a long time that the natural beauty we have here in West Virginia is one of, if not our single greatest treasure and I’m tickled to death that we are on the move toward making this a reality,” Justice said. “Adding a rail trail of this size, in this absolutely gorgeous part of our state, is going to give us a tourist attraction that’s one of the very best of its kind in the country and it’s going to bring in people from all over the world to discover just how wonderful it is in West Virginia.”
Justice made the announcement last Wednesday, along with officials from the West Virginia Tourism Office, the Division of Natural Resources and State Parks, at the Buffalo Creek Rail Rides facility in Clay County. This location, which offers tourists the opportunity to use “railbikes” to pedal their way along existing railroad, is part of the smaller rail trail that currently runs along Buffalo Creek. This trail would stand to be extended as part of the new project, work that would come in addition to the construction of dozens of miles of new rail trail along the Elk River.
Activities specific to rail trails, such as railbikes or rail excursion rides, have gained popularity as recreation destinations in recent years. Buffalo Creek Rail Rides has hosted visitors from 27 different states and several countries throughout their explorations in West Virginia.
“This exciting new project will give us one more tool in our toolbox as we work day in and day out to promote West Virginia to visitors,” said Tourism Commissioner Chelsea Ruby. “With four beautiful seasons and unmatched natural beauty, this extensive rail trail network will provide for additional recreational opportunities to explore Almost Heaven now and for years to come.”
West Virginia already boasts one of the largest rail trail systems of any state in the nation, with more than 375 miles of these trails already in service. The new trail will become the second-longest in the state, after the Greenbrier River Trail.
“This opportunity for a new trail like this is so exciting because it’s going to be one of those things that brings people in and then those people will give the economy here in West Virginia so much of a boost it will be truly unbelievable,” Gov. Justice said. “It’s just another one of the ways that I’ve been working to bring people and business into our state to make our economy grow like never before.”
The entire 72-mile system would be divided into two sections.
The Elk River Trail will span across 54 miles and run adjacent to the Elk River, starting in Clendenin and ending just south of Duck on the Clay-Braxton county border. The trail will be ideal for hiking and biking and will also provide easy access to local boating, fishing and kayaking opportunities along the Elk River.
The Buffalo Creek Trail will spur from the Elk River Trail, span across 18 miles and run adjacent to Buffalo Creek, starting near the city of Clay and ending at Widen in Clay County. Upon completion, the Buffalo Creek subset will feature a walking and biking trail.
Both sections will increase tourism opportunities in areas historically limited in traveler visitation and will also serve as an economic boost to these same areas, many of which were devastated by the historic June 2016 floods.
The state hopes to have portions of the new rail trail system up and running by Summer 2020.
“I just love the outdoors and all of the natural goodness we have here in our state so much and to be able to display that with a project that is so significant is going to mean big things for West Virginia,” Gov. Justice said. “I’m excited for this project to come together so we can give people a fresh way to breathe in our mountain air and fall in love with our state all over again.”