By Stephen Smoot
While much of the Pendleton County tourism discussion centers around adventure sports and recreation in the North Fork area, Sugar Grove can now boast of similar opportunities as well.
At Sweetwater Farm, Experience Learning and Trail Labs have combined to create experiences that offer both adventure and educational experiences. The two organizations held an open house and ribbon cutting to officially open their new trail system May 26.
“We are stoked to announce that development of the Sweetwater Farm Trail Center is underway,” said the organizational website.
At the open house, tourism and economic development leaders from around the county joined together to celebrate the launch of the new trails. Laura Brown, the executive director of the newly combined Pendleton and Grant County economic development authority, came, along with Pendleton County EDA board president Dayne Davis.
Amber Nesselrodt, executive director of the Pendleton County Convention and Visitors Bureau also attended, along with CVB board member Jeff Munn. Dr. King Seegar, who works with Experience Learning, came to the festivities as well.
Beautiful blue skies and 70 degree temperatures greeted the attendees. The trail system opens near the Experience Learning community building. Newly dug trails ascend in a series of switchback turns up the hillside by the building entrance. On this day, a few enthusiasts already had their traditional and e bicycles ready for action.
The dream of a trail system for the eastern part of the county started in 2021. Experience Learning engaged a firm called Appalachian Dirt to help with design and construction. Funding came from generous donors and grants.
As the website describes, “with stands of cedar in open, mellow grazing land dappled by white pine and veins of exposed limestone the low terrain is perfect for interesting cross-country riding, trail running, and hiking along. Higher locations on the property (3,230 feet elevation with 730 feet of relief) offer up mature oak forest with rugged sandstone outcroppings and no shortage of rocky rugged terrain.”
David Martin, executive director of Experience Learning, emphasized that while fun remains the focus, learning remains a key goal. “We’re interested in youth development,” he explained, then added that they concentrate on “how kids are going to be members of communities.”
The program will develop the themes of adventure education, science education, and school centered events along with summer camps.
“Our goal is for this place to be a real community asset and development tool,” he said.
The journey to adventure trails and educational opportunities proved difficult. Experience Learning acquired the property in 2016, then worked on deciding how best to use the land. Martin said, “We cast around to try to do something.” They experimented with small scale agricultural projects and other programs before settling on the current model.
Martin praised Experience Learning and its previous incarnations under other monikers, saying, “I have been affiliated with these organizations since 1993. I’ve met a lot of good folks and had a lot of good times.”
Experience Learning has ambitious plans to eventually develop 25 miles of trails on the property.