Greenbrier River Trail inducted into Trail Hall of Fame
A ribbon cutting ceremony took place Saturday at the Ninth Street trailhead of the Greenbrier River trail in Marlinton. Representatives from the Rails to Trails Conservancy sponsored the event, which celebrated the inclusion of the GRT into the Trail Hall of Fame, with a free cookout, live bluegrass music by the Allegheny Hellbenders, and a guided ride.
Eric Oberg, manager of trail development in the mid-west region for Rails to Trails, said this is his first trip to Marlinton, but it's easy to see why the Greenbrier River Trail was chosen.
"There's nothing better than walking down a street and having to get into the street because the sidewalk is so full of bikes," joked Oberg. "That was awesome, it's really a testament to why we're here for this - seeing the number of people out using the trail."
Oberg said the Rails to Trails Conservancy just celebrated its 25th anniversary. The organization's goal is to create a nationwide network of trails and to create healthier communities through trail use.
According to Oberg, in 2007, the Rails to Trails Conservancy started the hall of fame program and they base their decision on different criteria.
"We select these trails on a lot of different merits - scenic value, trail use, amenities, economic activity, excellence in management, and maintenance of the facility," said Oberg.
Oberg said there are 17,000 rail trails in the United States, and the GRT is the 26th trail to gain hall of fame distinction. He said the honor is very exclusive and very well deserved.
"The reason the Greenbrier River Trail was chosen is self-evident really. Everybody loves this trail," Oberg said. "It's kind of a no-brainer that we're here doing this, it's been on our short list forever and we're glad to finally be able to do this."
Oberg said the GRT is joining a diverse group of trails in the hall of fame. The last trail to be inducted is the High Line Trail in downtown New York City.
"You couldn't find something more different than this than the High Line, but they're amazing in their own respects," laughed Oberg.
Leslie McCarty, president of the Greenbrier River Trail Association, read a letter from Congressman Nick Rahall, who couldn't attend because of a family obligation. McCarty said Rahall "is very proud of us today for being inducted into the Rails to Trails hall of fame."
Local historian Bill McNeel shared some of the history behind the trail.
"In the early 1970s it was obvious that the life of the Greenbrier branch of the C&O Railroad was about to end," explained McNeel. "The closing of the Marlinton tannery in 1970 was perhaps the final blow to its future. By 1976, there were less than 1,000 cars of freight passing over the Greenbrier branch every year - not much traffic to justify maintaining almost 100 miles of track."
McNeel said in March 1975, the C&O applied to the interstate commerce commission for permission to abandon 92 miles of the Greenbrier branch, and that a number of concerns came up. One of them was the future of the right-of-way. With no post abandonment plan, much of the right-of-way would revert to adjoining landowners or be sold off by the railroad.
"In 1977 the entire 92 miles of right-of-way was donated, all the improvements - the bridges and the two depots in use at the time, the Marlinton depot and the Durbin depot. The only thing not donated was the track," said McNeel.
In late 1979 the 'Greenbrier Hike, Bike and Ski Trail' was formed. According to McNeel, the winter of 1979 made skiing the trail a real possibility.
Jody Spencer, representing the Division of Natural Resources, thanked the people responsible for keeping the trail alive.
"I don't think we'd be where we are today without the hard work of some local folks at the Greenbrier River Trail Association, who, years ago, had the foresight to grab ahold of this thing," said Spencer.
Oberg said joining the exclusive club of only 25 other trails will benefit local businesses and organizations. The hall of fame is promoted in a special spot on the Rails to Trails website, but he recommends that all businesses and organizations promote the new accolade in their advertising. Oberg said everyone should feel proud of the GRT.
"It tells a story about this place, and the people who cared enough to keep this," he said. "There's places like this elsewhere, but they weren't preserved. This is a testament to everybody here, everybody that lives in Marlinton. The fact that we're celebrating this - it's not just about the trail, it's about the people that live here, and it's something that everybody should be proud of."