Article by: Keith Doherty
It’s a quiet, frigid January morning at Bridge Brew Works in Fayetteville, WV. A few people walk to the entrance of the tap room and wonder if they might be the only ones coming today.
But the tires continue to hit the gravel parking lot, and one by one, volunteers slowly file out until a crowd begins to form. Everyone can see their breath. Some folks are raring to go, already cracking jokes. Others are sleepy-eyed, clearly having just gotten out of bed. Everyone pours a cup of the Range Finder Coffee that's perched on the table.
A quick team meeting commences, followed by a group photo, and each trail crew member grabs a hand tool as they head into the woods.
The scene is typical for a trail building day at Wolf Creek Park. Once a month, the community members of Fayette County gather, and through their sustained dedication demonstrate the passion and need for new mountain biking trails in the area.
“Fayetteville has kind of always been an outdoor Mecca for fishing, rafting, kayaking, and rock climbing. Mountain biking goes hand in hand with all of those sports,” said Nathan Herrold, co-owner of Bridge Brew Works.
“When you look at the area, the one thing we are lacking are trails. We have world-class climbing and whitewater that you can’t just build. Trails are easy enough to build,” said Andy Forron, owner of New River Bikes.
The Wolf Creek Trail Project has been grassroots from its infancy.
In 2017, Forron walked the roughly 1000-acre property with Gene Kistler, co-owner of Waterstone Outdoors and a member of the Fayette County Urban Renewal Authority, Billy Strasser, of Mountain State Trail Alliance, and Sam Chaber, also with MSTA and owner of SC Resources.
Looking at the corridors, they envisioned where trails might exist in relation to the developmental land of the business park.
“They asked us to stay on a 25% side slope, so that if at any time, things were going to get developed, the trails wouldn't be ruined,” said Chaber. “They wanted a multi-use trail system but more tour-based towards mountain biking.”
“As far as I know, it’s the largest trail project on public, non-park service land that the area has ever seen. The trails have a different character than anything around. It has lots of little ridges and valleys, some cool rocky zones that allow for more technical lines. Longer loops. More topography. The forest is also really diverse, so the scenery and feel of the trails changes a fair bit,” added Forron.
Chaber agreed, “We're trying to incorporate a little bit of everything into it for all aspects of riders. Whatever your style is, you can come here and have fun. We're not going to have a lot of downhill. The most elevation we have is about 200 feet, but within that, there's a lot of cool features if you search them out, so that's what we've been looking for- a lot of terrain with awesome rock gardens that are going to require old-school, jank-style technical riding skills, as well as plenty of flow trails with options when it comes to the features.”
The volunteer support for the project has been overwhelming.
“It’s crazy. We did not think we were going to see the outcome that we did when we put together the first volunteer day. And everyone's always like, ‘Oh, yeah, we're interested in going,’ and you take that with a grain of a salt, especially with social media,” said Chaber. “So, then we showed up, and there's 37 people here. And that was the first day, and it just kept growing from there.
“Every time we posted an event, people would show up. And they're psyched, they want to be here, they want to work. And you don't usually get that in a community or volunteer project, and it's not easy work.”
“The trail building days have been really enjoyable for my family to take part in,” said Hillary Nicolau, a Fayetteville resident and trail crew volunteer. “It’s hard work, but we have lots of laughs and fun in the process, and we’re able to work together to dig out stumps, clear brush, and build new trails for the community. I’ve made several new friends and have really enjoyed getting to know many in our small town better.
“We have a wealth of trails and outdoor activities in our community, but with the limitations NPS puts on volunteer work, it’s nice to have the opportunity to channel the energy of our community into building new trails for everyone.”
After a physically demanding day of work, the trail crew is always rewarded with a bit of social time at Bridge Brew Works.
“It's been fun at the brewery to be able to host these events because it's literally in our backyard,” said Herrold. “We go out there for four to six hours, come back, and just basically have a big potluck where we reminisce on the day. Sometimes we'll go out to ride the trails as soon we get back. The buzz is in the air.”
In addition to the monthly gatherings, New River Bikes closes its shop every Wednesday to host a weekly trail building day alongside the other project leaders. These days are open to the public, but they have had particular support from the students in the Tourism Industries Program at the Fayette Institute of Technology.
Instructor Tug Chamberlin said, “Not only is it great to bike or hike on a trail that you helped build, but it also builds ownership in that park, preserve, or wherever that trail is located.”
“We all came together to make this happen,” said Forron. “We have seen 25- 50 people on the monthly trail work/potluck days, and the Wednesday workdays have also had a lot of support. Since it’s county land, the fact that the community is so invested is a huge part of why this is allowed to happen.”
And not only did the community volunteer force contribute physically, but their engagement and passion for the project also got the attention of the Fayette County Commission. Using reallocated coal severance money designated by the Urban Renewal Authority and approved by the County Commission, the Wolf Creek Trail Project is receiving $150,000.
“The contract is for 12.5 miles of singletrack,” said Chaber. “With that being said, it can expand. We have probably 26 miles flagged already, and another 10 miles available for a total of 36 miles on the GPS that could be developed out here. Volunteers have helped clear roughly 9 to 12 miles. There's been some tread work done here and there up to this point.
“I'll come in with my team, and we have basically six to eight months to finish the trail, hopefully by November. It's going to happen, and I think we're going to have an amazing trail system at the end of it.”
And with the momentum of the project, there’s no reason to think the additional miles won’t eventually be developed. The volunteer labor of the community has already had a real economic impact.
“What we're getting is well below the national average for cost of trails, let alone the West Virginia standard per mile or per foot of trail. And I would say the last eight trail projects that have gone out in West Virginia have not been made for less than $7 a foot, and we're getting this project for less than $2 a foot,” said Chaber.
It’s a testament to the project leaders and the community engagement. And while that’s all great news for outdoor enthusiasts, it doesn’t stop there.
“Wolf Creek is one of three systems of trails that will be on county or city land. So, it’s one piece of the puzzle that will help tie the area together,” said Forron. “Up next is Needles Eye Park and Fayette County Park, and we have already started working on both.”
“The big picture of what Gene Kistler and Andy Forron have been working towards with Adam Hodges and Bill Hannabass is to have trail systems that tie into each other,” said Chaber. “We now have three areas that could be phenomenal mountain biking in the Fayetteville and Oak Hill areas. Each one of them has their unique, sweet aspects that can make for amazing trail systems. And we already have a trail built that connects Wolf Creek Park to Needles Eye Park.”
It’s quite a development for an area that was already rich in outdoor adventure. The trail builders see this not only as a reward for the community but also a potential economic driver for the county.
“It helps put us on the map again, where we always should have been,” said Chaber. “If you have three of the most outdoor-related activities, and you have world-class of everything in an area, people our age and the younger generations will be psyched about living here and help grow this economy.
“Tourism is great. West Virginia is always going to tap into tourism, especially Fayetteville. But we need to start thinking on the flipside, instead of just tourism, where they're here for a couple of days, or here for a week, and then they're gone. We need to think of it as an outdoor recreation area or an outdoor recreation state. Once we get them living here or keep our local younger population from moving out of state, then they're paying taxes, then they're getting jobs, or creating jobs, starting businesses, employing people, buying houses, buying cars, which all in all is going to raise our economic value.”
Much like the new trail systems, it’s all connected. And it’s an exciting development for a community that craves healthy lifestyles and outdoor adventures.