Davis & Elkins College has been awarded $150,000 from the Richard King Mellon Foundation for construction and activation of approximately 3 miles of natural surface trail on the College campus. The project is a product of a Trail Master Plan that came to life through the partnership of over thirty local, regional, state, and federal stakeholders established under Elkins Area Shared Trails, Inc. (EAST). The Plan includes conceptual design of purpose-built, shared use trails covering four distinct properties and over 230 acres, at an estimated cost of $1.5 – $2.2 million to construct. This generous grant award from the Richard King Mellon Foundation will kick-off the first phase of trail construction and activation for local recreational users, D&E athletes, youth sports teams, and visitors seeking quality experiences. It will serve as a catalyst for the completion of the plan and future trail development.

The goal of this project is to reduce or remove barriers to our outdoor assets that can be used for community health, recreation, conservation, and tourism. In addition to leveling up the College’s cross-country athletic program, trails will adhere to multi-use design principles which will make them well suited for the new collegiate cycling club, existing youth cycling team, middle school and high school cross-country teams, and a variety of other public users. This trail system will enrich user experiences of the outdoor landscape, increase access to an active lifestyle, and add opportunities for learning nature-based principles and practical outdoor skills. D&E is perfectly situated to facilitate implementation of this project as an active partner in EAST, a land manager and proponent of the Trail Master Plan.

Despite its unparalleled proximity to over a million acres of public land, the Greater Elkins area is a trail desert with limited access to purpose-built trails open for public use within a 30-minute drive of the city center. D&E shares in the EAST vision to expand trails for the community, as well as for the specific benefit of our collegiate athletic program recruitment and retention. The addition of these trails will allow D&E to become a destination venue for regional NCAA championships and independent competitions.
Jessica Sutton, President of EAST and Ascend WV Greater Elkins Experience Coordinator, shared, “Elkins is home to a strong and growing community of trail runners, hikers, mountain bikers, cross-country skiers, birders, hunters, anglers, and other outdoor enthusiasts who live here because of their desire to connect with nature. The mission of EAST is to bring people together through the development, stewardship, and enjoyment of local trails. We believe this plan will strengthen the vitality of Elkins by creating a healthier and more desirable place to live, further integrate our D&E students with the community, and create a tourist destination. The construction of this section of trail is a big first step in that effort.”

Technical assistance for this project will be provided by the Brad & Alys Smith Outdoor Economic Development Collaborative, the parent organization of Ascend WV and a leader in developing West Virginia’s outdoor economy, recreational infrastructure, and outdoor educational opportunities.

Founded in 1947, the Richard King Mellon Foundation is the largest foundation in Southwestern Pennsylvania, and one of the 50 largest in the world. The Foundation’s 2022 year-end net assets were $2.8 billion, and its Trustees in 2022 disbursed more than $152 million in grants and program-related investments. The Foundation focuses its funding on six primary program areas delineated in its 2021-2030 Strategic Plan. This project lends itself to all six of those program areas: economic development, conservation, economic mobility, health and well-being, social-impact investments, and organizational effectiveness.

About this new partnership, Scott Goddard, Vice President of Institutional Advancement said, “It has been a true honor and pleasure working with the Richard King Mellon Foundation. For me, it is a bit personal. I attended R.K Mellon Elementary School in the Ligonier Valley School District. Growing up there, I had an opportunity to see first hand the impact of philanthropy thanks to the Mellon family. For the Richard King Mellon Foundation to now support Davis & Elkins College and EAST, I’m truly on cloud nine. This grant will officially get earth moving with trail development in the Elkins area. Just another step in making D&E/Elkins a great place to live, work, play, and stay.”

President Chris Wood added, “When the College’s needs meet the goals of potential funders, highly impactful results can come of the partnership. We look forward to the culmination of our mutual efforts for the good of the College and the community, and we’re proud that D&E is once again truly leading the way in this project.”

Work is expected to begin on the trail immediately following the bid process and is projected to be completed by December 31, 2025, allowing for weather-related interruptions.