by Steven Allen Adams for The Inter-Mountain, July 21, 2021
CLAY, W.Va. — Gov. Jim Justice, House Speaker Roger Hanshaw, and other officials were on hand Tuesday to cut the ribbon on an extension and renovation for one of the state’s newest rail trails on Central West Virginia.
Justice and Hanshaw announced the start of work on the Buffalo Creek Recreational Trail, part of the new Elk River Rail Trail. The Buffalo Creek trail project will repair 14 miles of rail lines originally part of the 18.2-mile Buffalo Creek and Gauley Railroad company.
“Now, with all of the things we have going on, we continue our rebirth,” Justice said Tuesday under a canopy sitting next to part of the original rail system. “We’re here today celebrating another event that is just going to bring more and more and more goodness back to this area.”
While the rail line — chartered in 1904 — hauled tons of coal in its day, it will now become a piece of the Elk River Rail Trail State Park. When complete, the 28-mile system will allow riders and hikers to travel from Hartland in Clay County to Duck in Braxton County.
“This area has gave us so much forevermore as we transported our coal from these mountains to fuel all kinds of stuff all across the nation and the world,” Justice said. “Now, if we can just bring ourselves back, everyday West Virginia just gets better and better … we are now the diamond in the rough that everyone is beginning to recognize.”
If the system is fully realized, it could potentially connect from Charleston’s Capitol Market to Burnsville in Braxton County — a more than 80-mile trek, making the trail longer than the 72-mile North Bend Rail Trail and the 78-mile Greenbrier River Trail. It would also make the Elk River Rail Trail one of the longest on the East Coast.
“This is an exciting time,” said Del. Brent Boggs, D-Braxton, a former railroad engineer who knows the Buffalo Creek and Gauley Railroad well. “The railroader in me misses the days when the coal was flowing and the jobs were here. But that was then and this is now. We have an opportunity … and this has the ability to impact Central West Virginia just like the Hatfield and McCoy Trail did in Southern West Virginia.”
The $5.6 million project — under contract by Chesapeake Thermite Welding — is being funding through the Federal Emergency Management Agency. The devastating 2016 floods wiped out much of the rail infrastructure along Buffalo Creek. The funding will restore the rail line in case of future need, while the trail itself will follow along the rail line. Parts of the rail are already used for excursion train rides and rail biking — allowing tourists to use feet-powered cars that travel on the rails.
“There have countless hours of effort put in by so many people in getting our community … to a place to be able to restore some of the devastation or communities have felt after the 2016 flood,” Hanshaw, R-Clay, said. “We’re here today to commemorate the beginning of work on a FEMA-funded restoration damage from the 2016 flood … this Elk River Trail system is going to transform Central West Virginia. It’s already begun to do so.”
Justice first announced the creation of the Elk River Rail Trail State Park in 2019. Last month, the Legislature passed supplemental appropriations of surplus tax revenue for the fiscal year ending June 30 for projects recommended by Justice, including $12 million for the Department of Tourism and $42 million for the Division of Natural Resources to help promote and renovate state parks.
According to the Department of Tourism, more than $100 million has been invested in state parks between 2017 and 2020.