Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

July 15, 2013

Clinch River Walking Trail in the works

By KATE COIL
Bluefield Daily Telegraph

RICHLANDS, Va. — Officials are hoping the development of a walking trail and restoration of a swinging bridge along the Clinch River will provide another asset to local tourism.

Ginger Branton, executive director of the Greater Richlands Chamber of Commerce, said town officials are looking into further developing the Clinch River Walking Trail around the town, which was a project originally begun around 20 years ago. As part of the project, Branton said the city would also restore a local swinging bridge.

“The first mile of the trail was an initiative we did after the Williams donated a property — our playground — to the town,” Branton said. “The area is known as Williams Park and is where the trail starts. The Clinch River Walking Trail currently ends at the train trestle. We were never able to develop it further because there was no more funding. The first part of the trail was made possible through a grant from the Virginia Department of Transportation.”

Branton said town leaders invited students from Virginia Tech to help determine what potential for tourism and development the area has. Branton said the students recently handed over their proposal to the town at a public hearing at the Richlands Business Incubator.

“The design team from Virginia Tech walked the river to see what potential was there before presenting their findings to us,” Branton said. “The students were a mix of Ph.D. candidates, master’s degree candidates and bachelor’s degree students studying things like architectural design and environmental design. They presented several different proposals to show what types of development were possible in a trail for Richlands.”

Branton said the proposal town leaders are looking to pursue involves adding picnic tables, fishing areas and boat access to the river.

“The proposal is to develop a 1.8-mile trail that ends at the swinging bridge,” Branton said. “The swinging bridge will also be restored as part of this project as it is one of the last swinging bridges we have. If people who have private property along the river would like to donate it to the town, we will use those properties to put in picnic tables, fishing spots and put-ins for kayaks and boats.”

Even if funds are secured, Branton said there are still some considerations the town will have to keep in mind as they develop the area.

“The Clinch River does have an endangered species living in it,” Branton said. “We will be working to protect the habitat of that species while also developing recreation. The plan is now in the hands of the town, who will be applying for grants. This is just in the early stages, and it’s a long-range plan that will have to be done in phases because of all the hoops that have to be jump through.”

However with development of recreational tourism such as the Spearhead Trail in the region, Branton said the walking trail will provide a considerable tourism benefit to the area.

“This has a great potential for developing tourism, especially with all of the different walking and riding trails coming into this area,” she said. “It gives people something else to do when they come into our area.”

— Contact Kate Coil at kcoil@bdtonline.com