The Ohio Valley Trail Association plans to connect communities through trails.
The association, founded in October by representatives from several regional trail advocacy groups in order to collaboratively develop a trail network across Belmont County, will host its first fundraising dinner Wednesday at Undo's Restaurant in St. Clairsville. All funds raised during the event will support the all-volunteer effort to acquire rights of way and to develop recreation trails throughout the region.
The guest speaker will be Eric Oberg, trail development manager from the midwest office of the Rails to Trails Conservancy.
The association has been busy submitting grant proposals to create three trail heads in the county: One in Barnesville, one in the Aetnaville Bridge area and one connecting Neffs to St. Clairsville.
"We're so pleased to see it happening," said Doug Wayt, president of the Wheeling-based Ohio Valley Trail Partners, about program development in East Ohio.
Wayt co-chairs OVTA with Rich Sidwell of the Barnesville Area Rails to Trails Committee.
"Trails mean so much to communities," Wayt said. "These trails are going to be our legacy. "
Mike Kinter, human resources manager for the Belmont County Board of Commissioners, said it is unique that groups both in and around Belmont County have combined to form the association. He added area political groups have been supportive in OVTA's work.
The process, from grant application to railroad right of way purchase to trail development, is done in phases, according to Jeff McCamic, local lawyer and OVTA traveling attorney.
"This region has one of the top trails," Wayt said about the Wheeling trail being one of only two trails in West Virginia to receive an RTC five-star rating. "That's what we're working toward in Belmont County."
Robert Reed, owner of Quick Service Bicycle Shop in Bridgeport, said the Aetnaville section will be the most-used of the new trail heads due to the area being, "an important thread for commerce."
Looking ahead, Wayt said a goal is to continue the Barnesville trail to an existing trail in Guernsey County.
The group is also mapping out plans for extended local trail development that would eventually connect with the emerging nationwide network, including the existing trail that nearly connects Wheeling to Washington D.C.
Once a trail in Brooke County is completed, that particular stretch will be a 430 miles of continuous trail, according to Wayt.
To reserve tickets for the fundraising dinner, contact Sharon Hanse by phone, 740-425-1483, or email, toucandesign43713@yahoo