Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

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Charles Owens

June 12, 2013

Exploring a way to link not-so-close communities such as Anawalt, War

BLUEFIELD — Having both grown up in McDowell County, sports writer Bobb Redd and I will occasionally jest about the differences between Gary Hollow and Anawalt. The two towns are separated by a mere distance of 15 minutes or less, and folks living in Gary and Anawalt tend to think of each other more as neighbors than rivals.

Bob was a Gary Coaldigger. I was a Anawalt Comet. Gary is, of course, home to a convenience station with groceries and gas, a nursing home and even the Tug River Health Clinic. Anawalt had three gas stations when I was growing up, but today there is only one service station without gas. And if you need gas you must travel to either Gary or Maybeurry. Anawalt has a large dam and recreational area and now a temporary, but state-of-the-art, modular elementary and middle school.

The original elementary school was constructed during the early 1920s, but was closed in July 2012 by order of the state fire marshal and health department for apparent health and safety reasons. The new modular building is currently set up in the parking lot of the old school building, which is still standing.

But regardless of whether you went to school in Gary or Anawalt, you always ended up in Welch at some point — usually in high school. The bus ride up the mountain wasn’t too bad for kids living in Gary, but it was quite a drive for kids on the Anawalt and Jenkinjones end of the county. Gary, by comparison, is located only 10 minutes away from Welch. So the morning and evening bus drive to and from school was relatively simple for the Gary kids.

Those of us living in Gary and Anawalt rarely made it to War, Iaeger or Bradshaw. In fact, my first trip to War and Iaeger wasn’t until I was in college. I also ventured a little further — into the Oceana area and beyond — in search of a job. It didn’t pan out. The drive to and from home was simply too long of a commute — just like the school bus ride from Anawalt to Welch was on certain days.

But the first ride to War, and Coalwood and Caretta for that matter, can be quite an experience for those who aren’t used to — or simply don’t like — winding, mountainous roadways. Some of the curves between Welch and War are particularly challenging. It’s best to take them slow, although I have seen some people navigate these curves at an alarmingly fast pace.

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So what could link all — or at least most of McDowell County — together? What could connect Gary with War, and War with Welch? How about a new segment of the Hatfield-McCoy Trail? It turns out that is exactly what is being planned for McDowell County.

A new 80-mile segment of the Hatfield-McCoy Trail is being developed between the cities of Gary, War and Welch, according to Jeff Lusk, executive director of the Hatfield-McCoy Trail Authority. The new trail system would be in addition to the existing Indian Ridge Trail in McDowell County, which also connects with the new Pocahontas Trail in Mercer County.

According to Lusk, city officials and concerned citizens in War, as well as members of the McDowell County Commission, recently approached the trail authority with the idea of building the new trail system. The proposed stand-alone system will extend 80 miles while connecting the cities of War, Gary and Welch. And by reaching Gary, you are relatively close to Anawalt as well.

Many of the existing trails are already in place in the three communities, which should help to expedite construction of the new system. The trail authority is already working to attain grant funding, and right-of-way agreements, in preparation for work on the new system.

Once the new trail is complete, McDowell County will then be home to two trail systems. Logan and Mingo counties also currently house two trail systems. Lusk correctly notes that the more communities that are connected by trail systems, the more opportunities there are for expansion for entrepreneurs, and economic development and tourism growth for the connected communities.

Two trails also means more visitors to the area. Riders will come to a particular location because they have multiple riding locations. And once the trails are interconnected, the experience is further enhanced creating a multi-day adventure for the out-of-town visitors. These community connector systems also will help to further link communities such as War, Welch, Gary and even Anawalt.

Suddenly, War won’t seem so far away from Gary, and vice versa. And you can certainly cut down on the travel time — and enjoy a few sharp curves in the process — while navigating between the two communities on four-wheels. The regional ATV revolution continues.

Charles Owens is the Daily Telegraph’s assistant managing editor. Contact him at cowens@bdtonline.com. Follow him @BDTOwens.

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