WHEELING - Money raised during the recent Wheeling Heritage Trail Tour will help keep the area's trail system in tip-top shape, according to event organizers.
Members of the Ohio Valley Trail Partners plan to use the funds - an estimated $3,000 to $5,000 - to paint and treat the Heritage Trail bridge that spans Wheeling Creek behind WesBanco Arena. They also hope to assist another budding trail organization, the Ohio Valley Trail Association, as it seeks to build three new trailheads in Belmont County, said the group's president, Doug Wayt.
Wayt said his group appreciates the work Wheeling officials do to keep the trail clean and well-maintained, and efforts such as the bridge painting project, are a way to show that appreciation and take some of the pressure off the city.
WHEELING TRAIL TOUR — Cyclists prepare to pedal their way through the Wheeling Heritage Trail Tour, which was held May 25. -- Contributed
"Nobody takes better care of their trails than the city of Wheeling - no one," he said.
With ideal weather conditions for a day out on the trail, about 275 cyclists from at least six states participated in the trail tour, which was held for the eighth consecutive year May 25. The tour featured three courses of varying lengths, but about 50 riders - more than ever before, according to Wayt - opted to tackle the most challenging course, a 62-mile loop that took them through the hills of West Liberty and Bethany before returning to Wheeling.
Riders enjoyed refreshments provided by Jebbia's Market and Gumby's, and a flat tire clinic offered them the chance to learn something new.
As always, one of Wayt's favorite things about the event is seeing riders of all ages who are passionate about cycling.
"Our youngest rider was 6, and she rode 13 miles with mom and dad," Wayt said. "We also had riders in their 80s."
A larger aim of events like the Wheeling tour is to increase awareness of the area's trail system and garnering support for its ultimate goal: Creating an unbroken, 430-mile stretch of connected trails linking Wheeling with Washington, D.C. The expansion of bicycle trails through Maryland has spurred economic growth in a number of struggling communities there, and Wayt - pointing out that tourism is now West Virginia's top industry - sees no reason why, with a little promotion, the trail can't be a similar catalyst for the Ohio Valley.
"All these little towns were dying. ... You should see what they've done now," Wayt said.
Organizers are close to reaching their goal, as the only broken links in the chain are a seven-mile stretch that would connect the Brooke Pioneer Trail in Wellsburg to the Panhandle Trail in Weirton, and a one-mile segment near Pittsburgh. Slowly but surely, they're bridging the gap and hope by next spring to complete another mile of the trail along state Route 2, which would extend it to the area of Brooke High School.
"We do need the support of communities north to finalize this last section," Wayt said.