This year the Rails to Trails Conservancy hosted two sojourns in our region, each featuring a small section of the developing Sheepskin Trail. Each year, the sojourns brings hundreds of trail enthusiasts to ride the trails and learn about their local uniqueness and where they connect into the system of growing trail networks. The first ever West Virginia Rail-Trail Sojourn took place April 24-26, 2015.
The 2015 West Virginia Rail-Trail Sojourn’s economic impact to the Morgantown area was $38,176. That’s a positive impact from just three days, 82 participants + staff, and 12 states represented. Participants even got a preview of the connection between West Virginia and the developing Sheepskin Trail into Pennsylvania near Point Marion.
A few months later in June, the 14th Annual Pennsylvania Rail-Trail Sojourn returned to the Great Allegheny Passage and Montour trails, but featured a two-night stay along the Sheepskin Trail in Dunbar. This singular ride opened some eyes in the tiny village of Dunbar. Although only 2.1 miles into Dunbar, this end of the Sheepskin is connected to 335 miles of the Great Allegheny Passage and C&O Canal Towpath. To prepare, many of the community groups including the borough council came together to take pride and show off their town!
Several locals were concerned about the day after trash and overcrowding of the ball field where participants would be camping. Many of the “nay-sayers” changed their view while the cyclists were in town.
During the visit, sojourners learned about the efforts to build and connect the Sheepskin Trail and saw the unveiling of the new logo! Of the few businesses in town, it was their best days ever. The local laundromat was well used and appreciated. The Kountry Klub was packed for throughout the visit and the server tips were proof. Even after the Sojourners left several have sent back donations to the library, firemen, and the future development of the Sheepskin Trail.
Those that were concerned about the shape of the ball field and downtown the next day were very much pleased. Not a single piece of trash or debris to be found. The bikers left it in better shape than they had found it. The Sojourn events have sparked new energies into these communities. The trail is engaging more to work together to build their portion of trail and help build a stronger network of Trail Town communities.