BUCKHANNON — The Rotary Club of Buckhannon-Upshur learned about the exciting things happening at one of Upshur County’s upcoming destination locations. The Upshur County Trails were founded in 2015 and have since evolved into a popular area attraction.
The land that these trails are home to belong to three agencies: the City of Buckhannon, Upshur County and the Board of Education. According to Upshur County Trails volunteer Julia Kastner, these three agencies, in partnership with Upshur County Parks and Recreation and the Convention and Visitors Bureau, have been supportive and encouraging of the group’s endeavors.
Kastner updated members of the Rotary Club about the new things coming to the trails on Tuesday afternoon. The trails are located at the Upshur County Recreational Park behind Buckhannon-Upshur High School and can be identified by an archway at the trails’ entrance. Kastner also noted that directional and cautionary signage is in place for users to follow.
In 2015, the Upshur County Parks and Recreation Board was reportedly asked to help build mountain bike trail from existing trails. Seven miles of trails were built and several are flagged for future development. According to Kastner, there are challenging aspects of each trail, but they also consist of some beginner features. The trails are often used by runners, dog walkers, mountain bikers, and hikers. Although there is not currently a trail that is age appropriate for the elderly population, Kastner noted that an ADA trail has been briefly discussed. Most recently, a fairy gnome trail was built by families and kids to create some more foot traffic by the younger age group.
The Upshur County Trails group had a milestone year in 2020, Kastner expressed. Following years of discussion, the City of Buckhannon reportedly executed a lease that allowed them 261 additional acres of land for the purpose of building more mountain bike trails. Kastner noted it is “terribly exciting” to have “261 new acres to play with.” She explained that a new 1.5-mile trail has already been constructed on the recently acquired land. They also received a Try This WV mini grant that allowed them to install the archway at the opening of the trails, as well as two informational kiosks, directional and cautionary signage, and native wildflowers. “The grant funders were appreciative of our projects and we just reapplied for another round of funding,” she asserted. Kastner said they’re hoping to receive more funding in the near future that will allow them to rent equipment to build the few new miles of trails on the additional 261 acres.
While visiting the trails, various wildlife can also be observed—many plants, animals, wetlands, vibrant mosses, etc. There are over 60 native wildflowers, butterflies, deer, turkey, owls, frogs, turtles, salamanders, snakes, mushrooms and fungi, and so much more.
The group reportedly executed three successful fundraisers during the last year. COVID-19 was a particularly busy time for outdoor recreation, as people turned to it for socially distanced fun. “People are traveling to come here. We are starting to become a destination,” Kastner expressed. She also mentioned that the group has received great feedback from people traveling to West Virginia to see the trails. Their most common out of state visitors are reportedly traveling from Maryland and Pennsylvania. According to Kastner, the trails get dozens of people on weekends and they regularly have visitors from Lewis, Randolph, Harrison and Tucker counties. They also host a Wednesday weeknight ride that several people join, she noted.
The Upshur County Trails group consists of only 8-9 individuals and although they’re small, Kastner expressed they get a lot accomplished. Among those few individuals, she emphasized their strategic diversity which consists of a fundraising specialist, a lawyer, a civil engineer, shop teacher, and several are also International Mountain Biking Association (IMBA) trained builders. The ages of volunteers also vary from college age to 50s. Although the group mainly consists of mountain bikers, they also have botany enthusiasts, photographers, runners and hikers.
“I’ve lived and traveled in some pretty far-flung places. I’ve been able to see and work on different trail systems from other areas. I’ve worked with trail groups in diverse places. This is the smallest group I’ve worked with, but the most effective,” Kastner expressed. She moved to Upshur County approximately two years ago for work and although she loves her job, Kastner noted that what keeps her here, is the Upshur County Trails group—where they’re allowed freedom to do their work and have such a strong support system within the community. “I’ve lived and worked in several states and have never seen anything quite like this. It’s what I was looking for and it’s very special,” she expressed.
Up until this point, everything done on the trails has been by hand and involved a lot of manual labor, Kastner emphasized. Renting equipment to execute these next phases of trails would be much more efficient for the group. According to Kastner, the Upshur County Commission has been very supportive of the trails. Recently, Commissioners gave their support to build progressive skill feature infrastructure and they also recently purchased a work stand area which is instilled near the archway, purchased a picnic table, and have completed laying gravel for additional parking spaces.
The group’s “Upshur County Trails” Facebook page currently has over 900 members and would love to welcome more. The page has information regarding public work days on the trails and volunteer opportunities, in addition to the wildlife found along the trails by visitors. So far in 2021, the group has reportedly logged over 240 volunteer hours. Kastner encourages those looking to volunteer to visit their Facebook page. The group is currently limited by their personal labor supply; therefore, they’re looking for more community engagement and looking forward to finding more volunteers to get involved to help sustain their current and future trails.
One Rotary member asked Kastner if the Upshur County Trails would be suitable for hosting a mountain bike race. Although the group hasn’t organized a race yet, Kastner noted that their trails would be appropriate for such an event. “It is just a matter of work and getting out of the pandemic,” she explained.
The Upshur County Trails group is constantly striving to make nature more accessible and available. These trails are a great place for all people to get out and get more active. “Being in a green space is good for us,” Kastner emphasized.