With the opening of WVU’s Falling Run Greenspace, a small army of volunteers has returned a near-downtown oasis to us all.
A hundred years ago, Falling Run fell in a series of charming, rocky cascades. It flowed from what we now know as the WVU Organic Research Farm through the steep ravine between Willey Street and the downtown campus to its south and Stewart Street to its north. Old photos show students and faculty relaxing by waterfalls there. It must have been a big loss in the ’20s when the lowest section of the stream was culverted under the first Mountaineer Field—where the Life Sciences building stands today.
Now we have Falling Run back.
It’s been there all along, of course—at least, the part that wasn’t buried. It was privately owned and too steep to develop. The owner left it to grow wild. But in 2012, WVU acquired the valley as part of a settlement: an overlooked 94 acres of green space practically downtown. To make best use of the property, administrators invited Vaike Haas, assistant professor of landscape architecture, to spearhead a project. Haas developed a master plan. She involved a succession of landscape architecture classes in identifying vegetation, developing restoration strategies, and aligning, grading, and setting out pin flags to mark proposed trail routes.
Then, in August 2016, Welcome Week activities included for the first time a service component for all freshmen. The enthusiastic flow of volunteers to trail-building at Falling Run took on momentum that pulled in more students, faculty, and staff through the academic year.
In April, WVU unveiled the freshly trailed green space to the public. “As of today, 943 students have devoted 2,800 hours to building 14 trails,” Vice President for Administration and Finance Narvel Weese raved at the ribbon cutting. About 200 crew leaders had volunteered almost 900 hours through the fall and spring semesters. “This is a grand total of 3,682 volunteer hours to flag lines, cut brush, construct and groom trails, build steps, and forge streams.”
Unvisited for so many decades, the Falling Run ravine is pretty undisturbed. “There were a few old homesteads in there that have mostly been taken out, and there was a lot of greenbrier that had to be hacked through,” says Julie Robison, senior advisor to Weese, who contributes a background in urban planning and a university administration presence to the project. “But it has just tremendous tree cover, and there’s a real variation in elevation. It’s probably one of the largest undeveloped parcels in downtown Morgantown—just very natural, very pristine.”
A trail map online shows almost five miles of trails planned, with about half of that built so far. The trails are a little rough in some places, at this early stage—some of the drainage and stabilization is still getting established. But the high number of volunteer hours dedicated to the project has left its $100,000 budget untouched and available for bridges, gravel paving, and boardwalks and ramps to make the primary trails accessible to all.
For a quick first experience of the Falling Run Greenspace, Robison recommends parking at the end of Outlook Street off College Avenue—still marked “No Parking,” a reflection of how volunteer enthusiasm got the trails developed before the infrastructure around them was ready, she says. But it’s safe to park there while the university and the city work out trailhead development. A few minutes’ walk up the blue trail will take you to a promontory with a great view. Or head down the yellow trail to Falling Run and relax by the cascades our predecessors enjoyed.
fallingrungreenspace.wvu.edu “Falling Run Trail Project” on Facebook