Note: This story appears in the Friday, Nov. 8 newspaper on Page A1.

MOONVILLE, Brown Twp. — The ongoing Moonville Rail Trail project is receiving a major funding boost toward installing more than a half-dozen bridges along the trail.

More than $1.5 million in grant funding from the Ohio Department of Natural Resources and the Ohio Department of Transportation is being awarded to the project, which seeks to restore a trail along the former railroad line.

This ODNR, through the Abandoned Mines program, will help to install seven bridges on the rail trail and build new trail connections to improve access to horseback riders, hikers and bicyclists.

In addition, the funding will pay for the remediation of eight nearby “open mine portals,” according to the Reclaiming Appalachia Coalition, a multi-state organization focused on mine reclamation projects in Ohio and elsewhere.

Construction is expected to begin sometime in 2020.

The railroad line was decommissioned in the 1980s, with the tracks and trestle bridges being removed. The work to connect these resulting gaps through installing new bridges has been regarded as a major hurdle by the Moonville Rail Trail Association.

Association President Brian Blair noted that design work on the bridges is currently in progress, and installation will utilize existing concrete abutments as much as possible.

The association, which formed in 2002, worked for years to garner enough state funding to pay for a new bridge atop Raccoon Creek closest to the famed Moonville Tunnel. The Neil Shaw Memorial Bridge (named for a group co-founder) was installed in 2016, and supporters have since worked to raise money to restore the other bridges along the trail.

Funding from ODOT, through the Transportation Alternatives Program, is going toward the completion of an additional bridge. Blair noted this particular bridge project has been in the works for a couple of years, and the engineering phase of the bridge is underway.

A future objective for this project, as noted by Blair and the Reclaiming Appalachia Coalition, is to connect the trail system to the Hockhocking Adena Bikeway.

Public officials praised these funding efforts.

“I think it’s a great thing for the county,” Vinton County Commissioner Mark Fout said. “I know they (the Moonville Rail Trail Association) have worked hard on this project, and they’ve worked a long time with very little. I’m tickled to death, I think it’s great for the community, and for tourism.”

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Sydney Dawes is the editor of The Vinton-Jackson Courier newspaper.; @sydneydawes_95

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