PATH officials ponder trail’s next step

3/7/16 / The Herald-Dispatch

HUNTINGTON - When the Paul Ambrose Trail for Health, or PATH, was first envisioned in 2006, the idea was to connect Huntington's parks and provide a recreational trail for the community to safely enjoy.

Now, 10 years later, much of that vision has been accomplished, and local officials are looking to establish the next direction for PATH.

PATH consists of more than 15 miles of trails, bike lanes and bike sharrows that provide safe alternative transportation routes throughout Huntington and surrounding areas.

It was named after Dr. Paul Ambrose, a young physician who was killed in the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. The Huntington native worked on family health and preventative medicine to fight obesity.

PATH is a way for his efforts to continue to impact the health of Huntington by providing people with safe avenues to get and stay active. And many have taken advantage of using the trails.

Local people also have got behind the project by participating in a variety of projects that help finance maintenance and improvements to the trail.

Three major events that help raise money for PATH are Fit Fest, PATH to the Cure and Tour de PATH. Each event promotes healthy lifestyles through multiple run/walk races as well as bike rides.

The 7th annual Fit Fest took place Sept. 13 and raised more than $50,000.

The first leg of PATH was built in 2009 at St. Cloud Commons Park, and from there, the project blossomed.

"Since then, (PATH) has exploded, and we wanted to do more than just connect parks," said Amanda Payne, trails program area manager for the Rahall Transportation Institute. "We want to connect the entire community. We want to have an area all throughout Huntington where people can safely get from point A to point B."

With this in mind, developers of PATH - RTI, the Greater Huntington Park and Recreation District and the city of Huntington - are asking the question, "What is next for PATH?" They hope to answer that by gathering public opinion and updating a master plan for the trail system.

Improving safety
In the past year, PATH expanded to add more bike sharrows, or shared lane bicycle markings, including one on 10th Street that connects the Ritter Park trail with the Harris Riverfront Park trail.

Along this section of roadways, multiple signs were placed in order to inform motorists that the state requires them to give bicyclists at least three feet of room.

The new law also eliminates a former provision that required cyclists to use an adjacent path instead of the road if available.

"PATH has really done a great job at making bike lane and trails more visible and giving an opportunity to have people safely bike, run or walk through town," Payne said. "I grew up in Huntington, and I don't think people really had that type of security and safety before now."

As far as other expansions, Payne said a focus has been placed more on fundraising and collecting various ideas on where the people of Huntington would like to see PATH go next.

In order to give community residents a chance to have their voice heard, RTI will host a public workshop from 6 to 8 p.m. Thursday, March 10, in the Marshall University Memorial Student Center.

"This is Huntington's trail, so the citizens of Huntington should have a say in what we do next," Payne said.

According to Payne, one of the main reasons for the meeting is to help RTI and the city determine how a recently awarded Transportation Alternative Programs grant for $500,000 should be spent.

A new master plan
To develop even more ideas, RTI also has entered into an agreement with the City of Huntington to create a new master plan for PATH.

Payne said the initial master plan and feasibility study was done more than five years ago and has now become extremely outdated.

The new plan will not only help determine what's next for the direction of PATH, but it will also lay out responsibilities and feasibility for future trails.

As it stands now, Breanna Shell, a planner for the city's Department of Development and Planning, said because PATH runs through numerous entities, operations and maintenance for the trail has been taken on by several organizations.

"In the beginning, there really isn't much maintenance to be done, but now that PATH is expanding, we really need to articulate whose responsibility it is to carry out and fund repairs," Shell said.

"We are also trying to determine feasibility as far as how would our next priority or step be feasible financially and construction-wise. We just want to lay all that out so we can make an informed decision moving forward."

In order to create a clear and concise vision for the future of PATH, the developers created an advisory board, which includes representatives from the city of Huntington, GHPRD, RTI, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, West Virginia Division of Highways and other entities the trail would run through.

One question the advisory board is attempting to answer is "What is the Paul Ambrose Trail for Health?"

"That was something that wasn't really discussed in the beginning, but we're actually really trying to dig down and figure out what is PATH," Payne said.

As the advisory board plots the next course for PATH, Payne said it has decided to eliminate the original projected completion date of 2024.

"There has been a lot more momentum than what anybody could have envisioned or realized," Payne said. "When you look at bike path systems across the country, even very sophisticated bike path systems, they are still working on expanding, so I don't think it's something you can ever put an end date on."

Although what's next for PATH has yet to be decided, Payne said the organizers will do what they have always done and follow the will of the people.

"It is not the most innovative process, but doing so has led to the majority of our success," she said.

On the web
To find out more about PATH and ways to get involved, Amanda Payne, trails program area manager for Rahall Transportation Institute, said she encourages people to check out the newly revamped website at paulambrosetrail.org.

The new site offers interactive maps so viewers can easily find sections of PATH that have already been built throughout Huntington.

It allows people to better plan a walk, run or bike ride and connects them with ways to volunteer or donate to PATH.