It’s only fitting that the ribbon cutting for the Monday Lick Trail System was held on Monday. It was a dreary day, but the pavilion at Stillwell Park was filled with enthusiasm as the organizations involved in establishing the trail system celebrated the latest addition in Pocahontas County.
The Monday Lick project is one of the many trails which will help the Snowshoe Highlands Ride Center achieve a gold status from the International Mountain Biking Association – or IMBA.
The Ride Center received a bronze status in 2019 and graduated to silver in 2020. After receiving a gap analysis from IMBA, the Snowshoe Highland Area Recrea- tion Collaborative has been hard at work to make changes that will lead to the gold status.
“What makes this project today really special is that it truly is a testament of the power of human connection, shared vision and hard work,” Pocahontas County Convention and Visitors Bureau Executive Director Chelsea Walker said. “Many of those recommendations [included] signage improvements and the connection of the Mower Tract to the Snowshoe back country.
“Then, of course, we’re all here today to celebrate the construction of the Monday Lick Trail System which is crucial to receiving our gold ride center status and will not only impact Pocahontas County tourism, but the outdoor recreation economy throughout the entire Potomac Highlands region.”
The Monday Lick system will include 27 miles of trails for all levels of riders – from beginners to experts – and is located near Stilwell Park in Marlinton.
Snowshoe Mountain Resort Vice President of Mountain Operations Ken Gaitor explained that the plan to have a ride center in Pocahontas County started with an idea six or seven years ago. He was approached by then COO Frank DeBerry who had a vision for the future of trails in the county.
“He described this vision of a gold level ride center in our area and it seemed incredibly ambitious to the point where I couldn’t wrap my head around it,” he said. “It took two more years of starting the conversation to really think about who had to come together, where did the money come from and what did the vision look like in the end.
“It takes people with that kind of visionary conception – they’re able to see things that a lot of us can’t see,” he continued. “What I’d like for you to think about when you think about a project of this scale is that it’s okay to dream on a level that’s beyond what’s in front of you, and if you set a goal that – let’s say sounds ridiculous – and you just put a pathway in, and take one step at a time. Most importantly, you develop wonderful partnerships with hard working people that are passionate about what it is you’re trying to do, and you can achieve just about anything.”
With a project of this size, it takes a lot of manpower and, more importantly, mon-ey. When it came time to finance the project, Region 4 Planning and Development Council got involved and helped find sources for funding.
A large portion of the project was funded by the Appalachian Regional Com- mission through the Power program, which was created to help communities that suffered from the loss of coal mining jobs to turn the economy around.
“The Appalachian Regional Commission has particularly sought to target areas like West Virginia and the areas that have been hit hard with the downturn in coal for these types projects, so that’s how this project came to be, more than anything else,” Region 4 Executive Director John Tuggle said. “The opportunity came up, and it’s not our doing as Region 4. We were working with this whole group [of organizations] and that really impressed the Appalachian Regional Committee. Co-chair Gayle Manchin’s biggest thing is collaboration in getting large projects that are regionally impactful.”
The list of Monday Lick project collaborators is vast – Snowshoe Mountain Resort, Poca Trails, U.S. Forest Service, Snowshoe Highlands Recreational Collaborative, WVU Extension Service, WVU Brad and Alys Smith Outdoor Economic Development Collaborative, Mon Forest Towns Regional Partnership, Pocahontas County Parks and Recreation, Town of Marlinton, Pocahontas County Convention and Visitors Bureau, Benedum Foundation, Region 4 Planning and Development Council and the Appalachian Regional Commission.
“That’s what made it happen,” Tuggle said. “A lot of times you talk about collaboration – this is a big group that got together to do this. The forest service is one of the key players because this is not the normal type project that you see with federal money. You’ve got federal money going on federal lands. That’s not normal.”
Construction began on the Monday Lick Trail System in September and is in phase one of two. The ribbon cutting was just the beginning of the celebration that will culminate when the system is complete.
“The construction of the Monday Lick Trail System is just an enhancement to our truly magical destination,” Walker said. “The continuation of efforts of partners like these will make Pocahontas County not only a special place to visit, but to recreate, to work and to live.”
Also speaking were Marlinton Mayor Sam Felton and U.S. Forest Service Marlinton District Ranger Jason Hattersly.
Before the ribbon cutting, greetings and congratulations were shared by members of Congress. Todd Gunter spoke on behalf of Senator Shelley Moore Capito; Jonathan Hall spoke on behalf of Congresswoman Carol Miller; and Tuggle spoke on behalf of Senator Joe Manchin.
Joining in the ribbon cutting celebration were members of the collaborating organizations and students from Marlinton Elementary School. After the ceremony, those in attendance who wished to see the trails either traveled by bike or MTA bus to the site.