A few years ago, Brandon Doerner and his twin six-year-olds, Aaron and Katie, ventured into the woods behind the Hurricane City Park in Putnam County. Their mission: to break ground on what was to become the Meeks Mountain Trail System.
An avid mountain biker with a background in commercial real estate, Doerner joined the Hurricane Development Authority and was assigned the task of mapping out a potential trail system for running, hiking, and mountain biking. His initial goal was to build about a mile of trail with his kids in order to demonstrate his design and building master plan to others involved in the project.
Doerner started laying out a plan for how he wanted the trail to look and feel, with the goal of bringing out scenic aspects for hikers and bikers. Word of the new trail system spread like wildfire through the community. Soon, local volunteers arrived at the trail site to help with construction, and once the initial two-mile loop was built, Doerner went public with the project.
Today, the Meeks Mountain Trail system boasts 23 miles of hand-built trails spanning 500 acres, with the exception of one machine-built downhill slope for mountain bikes. These trails were all made possible by more than 375 people and 13,000 volunteer hours.
Because the City of Hurricane’s property behind the City Park adjoins the Meeks family’s property, Doerner and other officials met with the family to let them know the trail system may encroach on their land. The Meeks, prominent local real estate developers who have a long history of supporting the community, were on board with the project from the beginning to advance their mission of seeing Hurricane grow and prosper.
As trail-building progressed, the Meeks family agreed to a 10-year deal in which the city could lease their property for trail development at no cost. From that agreement, the Meeks Mountain Trail Alliance (MMTA), a nonprofit organization, was born, so members could maintain the trails on the Meeks’s land. “As I continued to let the Meeks know what was going on up there, they became more interested in allowing the rest of the property to be used,” Doerner said.
Doerner used his extensive mountain biking experience to plan the trail system. First, he ventured out to find the lines, thinking about how to integrate certain features. On build days, he set pins in the ground every 20 feet, so the build team could connect the dots.
“You have to follow the topo lines and try not to go against or fight the grades because it takes away from the experience,” Doerner described. Doerner also said he wanted to make the trail building process family-oriented by encouraging kids to tag along on build days. “We want the kids to be out there with us playing in the dirt and watching the process,” he said.
Along with trail development, families enjoyed observing various wildlife, including turkeys, box turtles, eastern worm snakes, and spotted salamanders, and studying the flora of the area. “Trees are hard to learn for a lot of people, so it’s been fun teaching the kids the different leaves, barks, and colors,” Doerner said.
MMTA’s goal is to complete 26 miles of trail for hikers, runners, and mountain bikers, which will help promote economic growth and healthy lifestyles. Doerner created the 25526 Trail Plan (the name is a nod to Hurricane’s zip code), which aims to build five miles of trail in two years and 26 miles in five years. Next for MMTA is building a venue, including a trailhead and pavilion. However, Doerner said, these efforts will require more financial support. The MMTA Sustainers Program was developed to provide financial support for these ventures and ensure the trails are maintained in the future.
“Hearing my trail come up in conversation makes me proud for what I and, more importantly, the great community of trail builders have been able to accomplish.”
The nonprofit also created a scholarship program and awarded its first $500 scholarship last year to high school senior, Andrew Linville, who put in more than 250 volunteer hours on the trail. Any Putnam County student can apply for the scholarship, which involves trail time either by physically building the trail, providing marketing assistance, or developing something that benefits the trail system.
Linville said it was an honor to receive the award from people he greatly respects. He even had a trail named after himself in recognition of his dedicated efforts—Lindy Land. “This means a tremendous amount to me because I was able to leave a lasting mark on my community,” Linville said. “Hearing people talk about MMTA and hearing my trail come up in conversation makes me proud for what I and, more importantly, the great community of trail builders have been able to accomplish.”
One draw of the trail system is encouraging businesses to locate, or relocate, to the area, as their employees could benefit from the outdoor recreation opportunities; this in turn continues to benefit the community by growing businesses and other amenities for tourists and visitors. Additionally, the trail system will encourage travelers to come to Hurricane, as well as organizations to host events on the trails, such as trail runs and relay races. MMTA hosts its own events on the trail system, including the inaugural Hurricane Hundred K this summer.
Hurricane Mayor Scott Edwards said the trails not only benefit local residents, but also draw more people to the area. The trail system is right off Interstate 64, which encourages travelers to attend events or check out the trails during food and fuel breaks. “There aren’t many communities and cities the size of Hurricane that have a 26-mile trail system this close,” Doerner said.
“Meeks Mountain Trails began with some folks kicking an idea around and has evolved into something that is absolutely incredible,” Edwards said. “I have met and talked with many unique visitors out on the trails who came to Hurricane just to hike, bike, and run on the trails. I cannot express enough how proud the Hurricane City Council and city administration is of the vision that has come to life the last couple of years on that mountain, and we are excited to see what the future holds.”
Amanda Larch is copy editor of Highland Outdoors and a Hurricane native. She’s been following MMTA’s progress since the beginning and is eager to get back on the trails this summer.