Trails on Chilton property taking shape
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.
"I think anytime you ask someone to impose an easement on a property ... it has an effect on them.
"The church has been a little more reluctant to grant a permanent right," Lane said. "In fairness to them, they don't know what they might do with the property in the future."
The church has the option to cancel the lease, he said. "Once we establish the trail, we don't feel there ever will be a problem."
Payne has also been working with the owners of Victorian Arms apartments, next door to Woodnor, for access through their property, and with Bobbi Skaff, who owns a home beside the church property.
Victorian Arms owner Robert Allen will be in Charleston in a few weeks, Payne said. "He wants to work with the city. He's got concerns -- parking." He's hopeful a deal can be worked out. "I feel good about that."
Once the access issues are solved, Payne is anxious to start work on the trail.
"I got a bid from a contractor to do some work. He'd clear some fallen trees on the path, do some hand work, build two bridges and put in some piping for culvert."
There would be two small parking areas on Loudon Heights Road for access, he said, one at the bottom near Olson Road another at the upper end of the property.
As with all Land Trust projects, money is in short supply.
"We don't have a budget," Lane said. "We have not committed to spending any money. All of the easements were obtained at no cost."
Volunteers could help, Payne said. "We'd like to get an Eagle Scout involved, a garden club. Briar Hills Garden Club actually gave us a $5,000 grant a couple years ago but we couldn't spend it before the deadline ran out."
Unlike, say, the Carriage Trail, Payne sees this as a more local sort of destination.
"I call it a neighborhood trail for recreation. This part of South Hills is pretty difficult. There are no berms [along the roads]. You're taking your life in your hands.
"I hope the apartment owners would cherish it. They could market it as an amenity.
"From the city's perspective, I'm sure they're anxious just to follow through with the gift the Chiltons gave, the vision they had. They could easily have built houses here."
Reach Jim Balow at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-348-5102.