by Paul Darst
During the past decade, a network of trails that follows abandoned railways has sprung up around West Virginia.
Now, the costs of maintaining those scenic pathways is catching up to the counties and volunteer groups responsible for them.
But help could be on the way for the trails in Harrison County, said Terry Schulte, county planning commission director. Beginning this year, the county will start charging an annual fee to individuals and companies with driveways, power lines or other utilities that cross the publicly-owned trails.
Schulte said that money might be used to help sustain the trail system.
"What I'm seeing is that it's very expensive to get a trail in place," she said. "We're developing a program to look at what the costs of maintaining the trails is going to be and how we're going to meet those costs."
The state has authorized counties to implement such permit fees, she said. It will apply both to private property owners and companies, such as Dominion Resources or Allegheny Power, which have lines crossing the trails, she said.
The county is in the process of determining how many such crossings affect Harrison County's trails, Schulte said. Because that process is not yet complete, she is unsure how much money the fees will generate annually, she said.
One remaining question is what to do about those who have had crossings since the trails were used as railroads, Schulte said. She is unsure if they would have to pay the annual fee.
Although rail trails now are intended for hikers and bicycle riders, they still must be maintained for use by the railroad, Schulte said. State law requires that the road beds must be kept so that new rail lines could be put there if they are ever needed.
Maintenance for the county-owned Harrison and South Harrison Rail Trails comes from the Parks and Recreation Department budget. No figures on the amount spent on the trails annually were available Friday.
That office's workers also perform the work, Schulte said.
Volunteer groups maintain the county's other Rail Trails -- the North View, West Fork and North Bend.
Staff writer Paul Darst can be reached at 626-1404 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.