CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- More than six years after real estate developer Robert Chilton gave six acres of land off Loudon Heights Road to the city as a nature preserve, Charleston leaders are nearly ready to carve out hiking trails.
On Monday, City Council members are expected to approve agreements with two neighboring landowners to allow access through their property; negotiations are underway with two other neighbors.
In his Dec. 19, 2005 deed to the city, Chilton created a conservation easement on the property, ensuring that no buildings or other structures would ever be built there.
The crescent-shaped site runs along the west side of Loudon Heights Road, starting just above the concrete arched bridge at Olson Road and running nearly to corner of Bridge Road. At the lower end, it dips down to a creek where it meets tracts owned by people on Norwood Road.
The deed says the city must employ good forestry practices to maintain the trees, beautify the property and add trails for hiking, biking, jogging and recreational use.
Since 2005, members of the Charleston Land Trust have walked the site several times to lay out possible trails. The Land Trust was created in 2003 to help the city acquire and maintain wild sites like the Chilton property and the Sunrise Carriage Trail.
Lewis Payne, a South Hills City Council member from 2007 to 2011 and a Land Trust member, remembers visiting the site shortly after he was elected. He's been working with neighbors ever since.
According to one report, Girl Scouts used to have outings in the hollow, he said.
"There's the foundation for a building. There's a dam, and there was a pond where they used to ice skate."
Ideas for a trail system have changed over time, Payne said. For example, an early loop layout ran the trail through the back yards of several Norwood homeowners, far down the hill from their homes. Now the planned trail will be routed through just one yard.
"It's not a big deal," Payne said. "It's still a beautiful loop."
A key to the plan was St. Matthews Episcopal Church. The church already has a trail behind its activities building on Norwood that runs partway down the hill to an outdoor chapel.
"Originally what we thought we'd do is access [the site] through the church [property]," Payne said. "So we started negotiating with them. To ease their minds we changed our minds and will not access through the church."
Church leaders have agreed to sign a lease drafted by city attorneys, said City Councilman Tom Lane, the founding chairman of the Land Trust. Council will vote on the lease Monday.
And the owners of Woodnor Condominiums behind Colonial Exxon, have agreed to grant a trail easement to the city, Lane said.
Lane acknowledged it's taken years to get this far on the project.