Representatives of the West Virginia Scenic Trail Association, Seneca State Forest, The Conservation Fund, Atlantic Coast Pipeline and avid hikers held a dedication Monday of the new bridge on the Laurel Run portion of the Allegheny Trail. S. Stewart photo

Suzanne Stewart
Staff Writer

It may seem like a simple task – replace a bridge, reroute a portion of the Allegheny Trail and install a parking lot. The reality is, it takes a lot of effort and collaboration to turn an idea into reality.

Pooling their resources, members of the West Virginia Scenic Trail Association, Atlantic Coast Pipeline, The Conservation Fund, the Division of Forestry, the Division of Parks and the Nature Conservancy of West Virginia were able to complete the project.

Monday, the fruits of their labor was officially unveiled and dedicated with a small ceremony.

Spearheading the effort was WVSTA member Doug Wood, who is a trail coordinator in Pocahontas County. Wood gave a brief history about the issues the trail suffered that led to this project.

“This is one of the first segments of the Allegheny Trail,” he said. “It was put in back in the seventies. In recent years, the small bridge that went across Laurel Run washed out numerous times and had to be winched back into place.”

When the original route for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline had the pipeline running adjacent to the trail, Wood said the trail association was concerned and reached out to ACP in search of a solution.

“We were concerned that we were supposed to be co-aligned for almost a mile, because maintaining a trail on a pipeline or power line right-of-way is really difficult,” Wood said. “Fortunately, the Division of Forestry, the Division of Parks, Atlantic Coast Pipeline folks, The Conservation Fund, all kind of got involved in an effort to move the Allegheny Trail so that they didn’t have to be co-aligned.”

Once the groups got together to discuss the issue, the result was a land deal, transferring 1,200 acres, part of the Buckskin Scout Reservation, to Seneca State Forest. With the land transfer, the organizations were able to reroute the trail away from the ACP site and install a new bridge.

“This trail couldn’t have been done properly without the funding from Atlantic Coast Pipeline and without the effort of the TriState Company,” Wood said. “We’re glad that you funded it, and we are extremely thankful to The Conservation Fund for the brokering that went on and the land deal with Seneca. It wouldn’t have happened without everybody coming to agreement on this.”

Also commenting at the occasion was Bob Orndorff, State Policy Director for Dominion Energy. He gave Wood all the credit for the success of the project.

“This project could not have happened without Doug,” Orndorff said. “When we first sat down with him, I said, right off the bat, ‘This guy is sincere. He’s well meaning. He’s not opposing it. He’s open minded.’

“With that said, we created a partnership and the end result was moving the trail, creating a real positive thing for a positive trail for the hikers, like Doug, who love the Allegheny Trail.”

West Virginia state director of The Conservation Fund, Joe Hankins, also shared his gratitude for all those involved, especially those who use the trail on a regular basis.

“Thanks, especially, to all of you, the folks who are out here, tromping on the resource and enjoying the opportunity,” he said. “This is for you, by you, and we’re pleased just to be involved in a small way.”

Seneca State Forest superintendent Jeff Layfield added his comments, stating that the additional land and upgrade to the trail will add even more opportunities for visitors to the forest.

“This was the first state forest,” he said. “The property was acquired in 1924 by the state. We also have the oldest public campground in the state, as well. We’re really proud of our history here. I agree with Bob, if it wasn’t for Doug. I don’t know if this project would have happened because he was the real mover behind it all and kept pushing everybody to see it through to completion.

“We recommended the trail to our guests this summer, and we heard nothing but positive comments,” Layfield continued. “Even folks that aren’t members of the trail association have been using this section of trail, and we’re real appreciative of the upgrades that were made here.”

Before the official ribbon cutting and award ceremony, Wood shared a final story about the construction of the Allegheny Trail.

“This is about the beginning of the Allegheny Trail, really, and it includes a fellow named Fred Fromhart,” Wood said. “When the Allegheny Trail was first being constructed, Fred Fromhart was the superintendent of Seneca State Forest.”

Wood said it was the first year of the West Virginia Scenic Trails Association, and the organization came to an agreement with the state parks, Division of Forestry, three national forests and two different regions of the country to create hiking trails in the area.

“It’s a pretty amazing thing to put in a trail through the Allegheny Highlands of West Virginia to highlight some of the scenic features and the natural wonders,” he said. “It was on the template of the Appalachian Trail, but only a little bit smaller.

“Fred was a good state employee – he minded over the forest, watched over the forest, was protective of the forest, but at the same time, it’s an active forest,” Wood continued. “It’s being used for timber production. It’s being used to educate loggers how to cut trees and grow trees in appropriate fashion, so Fred had that responsibility, as well. Our organization worked with Fred to put the trail through the forest.”

The organization came across a concern about the possibility of a forest fire when building the trail through the forest. The state hired someone to bulldoze a fire protective trail. Fred forgot to mark a trail for the bulldozer to follow and instead told the driver to “follow the yellow blazes,” which are markers on the trees.

“Almost immediately, the single track trail became a really wide road for awhile,” Wood said, laughing.

“The Allegheny Trail has been a fun project to be involved in,” he concluded. “I’ve been a part of it almost since the beginning of the organization, and I’ve seen it grow. I’ve seen attitudes change toward the trail. We now have really good relations with just about every governmental entity that we deal with. It wasn’t always the case, but we do now. I’ve been glad to be a part of it. I’m tickled and I’m humbled by all of these people who have contributed to this successful project.”

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