The Bluefield (W.Va.) Daily Telegraph published this editorial on Jan. 10 regarding expanding outdoor tourism offerings:

Given the region's success with ATV and motorcycle trails, the addition of new bicycling, horseback riding and hiking trails would appear to be a natural expansion of our outdoor tourism offerings.

That's why we welcome a proposal between officials in Mercer and Summers counties that would allow for the creation of hiking and water trails along an old railroad line.

The hope is that the old railroad right-of-way going through part of Mercer County will form a connection with trails in Summers County and beyond, according to Mercer County Commissioner Bill Archer. This former railroad line was mostly forgotten until its existence became part of negotiations in the 1990s, Archer told the Daily Telegraph last week.

"Back in early 1990 when the commission was working with the Department of Highways to locate District 10 headquarters where it is at Exit 14, a question arose," Archer said. "There was going to be a three-way swap between the federal government, the highway department and the (county) commission."

The Mercer County Commission received the property which became the location of the Mercer County Courthouse Annex. The state forestry department got a 23-acre site along Gardner Road which was later converted into a wetland. The state Department of Highways received the property near Exit 14 off Interstate 77, which became the site of District 10's headquarters.

While these negotiations were underway, it was discovered that the descendants of the Bluestone Lumber Company, which operated near Exit 14, had the title to a 32-foot-wide narrow-gauge railroad line that ran all the way to Flat Top, Archer said. The county now owns the right of way. That railroad line and the right of way for it connect Mercer County and Summers County at Pipestem State Park.

As a result, officials in the two counties are now working together with Camp Creek State Park, Pipestem State Park and Summers County to develop a larger network of hiking, mountain bicycle trails and equestrian trails. No motorized vehicles like ATVs or motorcycles would be allowed on the trail at this time.

Both Mercer and Summers counties plan to apply, with the help of the Region One Planning & Development Council, for state Department of Highways grants. Archer said Mercer County is applying for a $150,000 grant that would fund the project's design phase. The hope is to have the grant applications submitted by Jan. 18.

The two-county plan sounds like an excellent idea. If approved for funding, the old railroad line project would further enhance our tourism appeal. It's also a great example of regional cooperation with elected leaders in neighboring counties working together to enhance tourism growth in southern West Virginia.

Congress must act on kids insurance program

The (Cleveland, Ohio) Plain Dealer published this editorial on Jan. 5:

Last month's congressional funding Band-Aid to keep the federal government in business included $2.85 billion in stopgap money for the Children's Health Insurance Program. That's far short of the five-year $8 billion CHIP extension advocates had sought.

Even more worrying, after partisan squabbles allowed the program to lapse Sept. 30, is that "it's unclear how long (that funding) will actually allow all states to continue operating their CHIP programs," warns the National Academy for State Health Policy. ...

CHIP needs to regain long-term funding. It works to safeguard the health of children, and long has enjoyed bipartisan support. ...

Nationwide, CHIP provides health care coverage to 9 million low-to-moderate-income children and about 370,000 pregnant women, cleveland.com's Sabrina Eaton reports.

In Ohio, covering the 200,000 children enrolled in CHIP costs about $45 million a month - a cost Ohio funds via Medicaid. ...

Leaving CHIP in budget limbo subject to continuing partisan slingshots is a disgrace. Congress must act, in a bipartisan manner, on a clean compromise that assures long-term funding, and it must do so without delay.

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