When life gives you lemons, the old saying goes, make lemonade.
But what do you do when life throws you a huge landslide? Apparently, when you work for the West Virginia State Park system, you climb it like any other hill in the mountain state and create a path for others to follow.
Faced with what Greenbrier River Trail superintendent Jody Spencer described last summer as "the mother of all landslides," state park officials and the trail's many supporters decided to find a way to save one of the best attractions. outdoor adventure: Restore Greenbrier Valley.
While initial plans called for transporting thousands of tons of debris blocking roads near Guidepost 13, the actual solution turned out to be as simple as it was ingenious. Instead of spending months hauling the debris, contractors working on the problem asked, why not just stabilize the 400-by-150-foot landslide, go around its edges, and run the road over it?
The plan worked perfectly, and last month the southernmost section of the railway reopened for the first time since the June 2016 flood, sending trees, rocks, mud and more down the mountain onto the trail.
"It was a brilliant idea," said Leslee McCarty, president of the Greenbrier River Trail Association.
"FEMA and the state really prevailed," he added. “I was very impressed with how quickly (how) they did it. Of course, there was pressure on them from us and others. We had a lot of support from the community.”
And the cost of executing the contractor's plan, just over $300,000, according to the state Department of Commerce, was far less than the estimated $2 million to clean up the landslide.
Much of the minor work, such as clearing the trail and drainage ditches of debris, was done by Department of Natural Resources (DNR) employees and volunteers, helping to keep restoration costs low, trade officials said.
FEMA (the Federal Emergency Management Agency) reimburses the DNR for 75% of the costs associated with trail restoration. This refund process is already underway.
One of the many advocates for the relatively quick restoration of the trail was Alinda Perrine, owner of Free Spirit Adventures & Bike Sales. The website for the company Harts Run, owned by Perrine and her husband for more than 20 years, describes Free Spirit as a sort of vacation runner, with services such as bike sales, trip planning, transport to and from nearby Greenbrier. River Trail. , and bicycle repair and rental .
Perrine is candid about the impact last year's closure of the south end of the trail has had on her business, noting that she has been forced to lay off some employees.
“While the road was closed, we saw our out-of-town business down at least 75 to 80 percent. And the locals didn't buy bikes either; The road is the backyard of this community.”
She added: "We're still on the ground, significantly impacted. This is our peak season (generally) but our fall bookings are low. I think it will be two to three years before things get back to normal."
Most visitors don't just walk the path; You are planning a destination vacation.
“People plan these trips six to eight months, even a year, in advance,” Perrine said. "And once you're off their radar, it's hard to go back."
The southern terminus of the trail is in Caldwell, just a few miles from Free Spirit.
"People come here to hike the trail, but there's also enthusiasm for the other amenities in the area," Perrine said. “It generates a lot of business for everyone.
"When people found out that the south end of the trail was closed, they decided not to come last year, and a lot of them didn't come this year either," Perrine said. “They want at least a 25-mile experience; some want the full 79 miles or just don't. We ride a lot of trails and you want to ride everything.”
When the 13-mile section of the trail was closed after record flooding last June, Perrine jumped into action.
“I called the state and tried to make them understand the importance of the trail for businesses like mine, both for attracting visitors and for the physical and mental health of local residents,” he said.
"Along with a few other people, I started the nonprofit 'Heal the Greenbrier River Trail' to raise money and volunteer when needed."
The group plans to help with further improvements to the trail after the heavy lifting.
“There is no water anywhere on the south end of the road; this is a security issue. There is no place to sit and rest, such as a picnic table or bench. We want to help restore these amenities on the trail.”
Aiming this year to recoup 20% to 25% of the business she lost when the road closed, Perrine realizes that time is pressing. The hiking season in this part of West Virginia usually only lasts until November 1st.
"We are very confident that (business) will come back," he said. “Residents are already gathering on the trail. We rent bikes every day and ride back and forth every day. Attracts. It takes time, work and a lot of marketing.”
He received feedback from his customers as he traversed the trail's slightly altered topography. Some of the feedback was negative — the lack of picnic tables is an issue that needs to be addressed soon — but people seem to have embraced most of the changes, Perrine said.
“They love the surface,” he said, explaining that the trail from the Caldwell terminal to Milepost 13 has been repaved with sand gravel, which is much finer than the standard gravel found in the rest of the area.
There are also other views to enjoy and more accessible stretches of the riverfront due to deliberate redevelopment by contractors along with changes Mother Nature made during last summer's flood.
"People walking the trail for the first time since the flood cannot believe how different the river is," Perrine said.
And in time, he added, the new "hump" in the trail over the landslide "won't seem so difficult."
Unlike Perrine, Stu Schwab was a new bike shop owner in the summer of 2016, so he had little to compare his sales to.
"I'm not the type to track where each person in the store comes from, but (the street is closed) definitely swayed me," he said. "Last year was my first year in my own business, I opened on the 4th of March and it had an impact on my business."
With the trail once again fully accessible, Schwab is having the success it hoped for when it opened the Appalachian Bicycle Company's doors in downtown Lewisburg last year.
"Now that the road is known to be open again, there's a big difference," he said. "Locals come back to the trail and need their bikes adjusted or repaired, and visitors come in with a broken helmet or something."
Schwab added: "I see a lot of people on the trail, whether it's locals who use the trail every week or people from outsidethe city."
He's also personally familiar with the Greenbrier River Trail: "My whole family gets together every year at Seebert's house, right on the trail. And my wife and I ride, we swim, we use almost everything."
McCarty noted that long before last year's flood, the Greenbrier River Trails Association put together a financing package that allowed him to buy about five acres of land near the end of the trail in Caldwell.
"We reserve (the land) for the state to use as trail parking," McCarty said. And now that the state appears to have the money to complete the project, that parking lot will also include restrooms and a locker room.
This isn't the first time the GRTA has contributed funds to improve the trail, McCarty said. By adding amenities to the trail, the non-profit helped boost the local economy.
When asked why the trail's restoration came relatively quickly after last summer's natural disaster, compared to repairs that took about six years after the infamous 1985 flood, McCarty noted that the trail has grown tremendously as an attraction, tourism and area. recreation for local residents. 🇧🇷 during the last 30 years.
“There is more accommodation, food, camping, and it all depends on the people who use the trail. Now it's a bigger constituency; There is a greater awareness now. It's an asset."
How much benefit would be up for debate were it not for the fortuitous timing of a government study of the route's economic impact.
Sam England, head of the DNR's Parks and Recreation Section, told Greenbrier County Commissioners in July 2016 that the study found the trail's total economic impact was about $3.5 million in "new money." : Money spent by people who traveled more than 50 miles to use The Path. However, this amount does not include expenses with hiking trails for the local population.
In a recent statement, England praised the repairs being carried out at the southern end of the route.
“We are pleased that the restoration is almost complete and that the Caldwell to Anthony trail is open to traffic again,” he said. "Just in time for summer vacation, weekend getaways and fall foliage season, outdoor enthusiasts can once again enjoy the full beauty of the trail."
For more information about the Greenbrier River Trail, visitwww.greenbrierrailtrailstatepark.com.
For more information about the nonprofit Greenbrier River Trail Association, visitwordpress.greenbrierrivertrail.com.