New Hurricane trail system aims to get residents outside and has already saved lives in the process.
written by laura jackson roberts
Brandon Doerner actually has the word “doer” in his name. It’s a name he lives up to in an inspiring fashion.
Back in 2017, the city of Hurricane was eyeing a new recreational trail project for the community. It would become a place for residents and visitors alike to hike, run, and mountain bike. Doerner raised his hand and volunteered to lead what has become an ambitious project.
As an avid mountain biker, Doerner says West Virginia’s trails are underutilized, in large part due to lack of access. A decent trail system may be a long drive away, which limits its potential for regular family use. The solution? Bring the trails home. Expanding on the idea of a single trail, he connected the city with the Meeks family, who generously opened 600 private acres for not just one path but an entire trail system, bringing trail recreation to Hurricane residents’ doorsteps.
“I thought, if we can create a trail system right off the front porch and folks can get into this trail system within five minutes and do a three-mile hike or a three-mile walk, that not only introduces them to the woods and hiking and being a part of a trail system, but it also encourages them to go farther into West Virginia,” he says. Thus, the nonprofit Meeks Mountain Trail Alliance was born.
Doerner, his son, and his daughter began construction of the trails by themselves, but the solitude didn’t last. “In October of 2018, these two guys showed up,” he recalls. “And they said, ‘Hey, we heard you’re building some trails. We want to help.’” Five volunteers became 10. Ten became 30. In no time, the private MMTA Facebook group had amassed 2,500 members. Doerner’s goal was to build five miles of trails in two years and complete 26 miles in five years, and he says people came from all walks of life to help. Roughly 360 volunteers have put in over 11,000 hours of work, and the Hurricane community’s sweat equity has turned into great pride in their trail system.
With the city’s full support, the MMTA has thus far built over 20 miles of trails, and the project is a year ahead of schedule. Doerner anticipates its completion in 2022. Visitors can choose trails appropriate for their skill levels. All of the trails are named after volunteers—another way to instill a sense of ownership for the people of Hurricane, who have given so much of their time and energy—and each is given an identifying character to help users orient themselves. Pets are welcome if they’re kept under control, and all bike riders need to wear helmets.
While the system isn’t yet complete, the trails see plenty of use. The community has embraced both the project and the opportunity for new adventures. Doerner believes Hurricane’s success could be a model for similar projects around the state. “Over the past three years, I’ve seen certain counties wanting to build trails, but they need funding,” he says. “And guess what? We’ve built 20 miles with probably $20,000, if that. People gave that money. But if you were to equate that to a dollar figure, we’ve got a $1.5 million trail system right out our front door.”
Events on the trail system are ongoing, too. This year’s calendar includes a 5k run, a half-marathon, and the Hurricane 100k trail run in September 2022—the first of its kind in West Virginia. Additionally, the Muddy Mutt 15k—a race for dogs and their owners benefiting the Hurricane Police Department K9 Unit—was scheduled for March 2022.
While the Meeks Mountain trail system has been a labor of love, each volunteer brings a story to the work. With shovels in hands, people talk about their lives and share the ways that the act of serving has helped them. Doerner says he’s seen the trail touch and heal many volunteers, including young people facing depression and considering suicide; a couple on the verge of divorce; former addicts; retired business owners; motivated health enthusiasts; and those who simply want to continue serving their community.
Although his name may appear on the project, Doerner considers himself merely a conduit for the telling of such stories. The trail is a great equalizer. Moreover, it’s woven lives together and forged new bonds of friendship and camaraderie that last long after a race or ride. “Our tagline is, ‘Building trails, building community, building people,’” he says. “I think it’s truly saved lives. And if we just save one life, I’m okay with that.”