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Willy was always an avid runner. But, as he began to train heavily in preparation for the rigors of both the Air Force Academy and Division I tennis, he began to take running and overall fitness very seriously, and became a fixture on the roads and tracks in Charleston and elsewhere.
In 2010, Aaron Florence—a George Washington High School student, Junior ROTC cadet and aspiring Eagle Scout—approached the Foundation about his Eagle Scout Project. He and other likeminded faculty and students had recognized the value of an untapped resource. At the time, few people—apart from some intrepid locals—knew that there were 30 acres of woodland owned by the Kanawha County Board of Education extending behind George Washington’s campus. At the time, there was a rough-hewn trail leading up the hill behind the school and back in a rugged circuit.
As his Eagle Scout Project, Aaron—and others—undertook to transform that trail into something that everyone could use. The Foundation donated money to Boy Scout Troop 71 to begin the process of clearing, levelling and installing gravel to establish a permanent trail. The Foundation has continued its support each year since.
The WAS Nature Trail was dedicated in the Summer of 2012. It has been improved and tended to by subsequent Eagle Scout Projects, and has been maintained by a cast of many, including the Junior ROTC Learn Academy and its instructor, Colonel Monty Warner. In addition, the Trail has received donations of invaluable support, equipment and material from the West Virginia Legislature, Greer Industries, Coal River Energy, Prichard Mining Company, and many others.
The WAS Nature Trail is open to the public, and it is used every day by people simply out for a walk, George Washington’s athletic teams, the Junior ROTC program and athletes of every type. Over the years, the Trail has expanded to include certain fitness exercises if reaching the top and getting back is not enough of a challenge. It is also surrounded on all sides by the natural beauty of a largely untouched wooded area in the heart of South Hills. So, whether you are interested in a stroll, a run or simply to be surrounded by nature, The WAS Nature Trail has a little something for everyone. It also stands as an example of the type of project that brings together government, schools, charities and the community at large to forge something special. In many ways, therefore, the Trail represents the Foundation’s mission in a nutshell.
One thing is for certain. Had the Trail been open in 2009, Willy would have raced you to the top and back at the drop of a hat. Odds are good that you would find him waiting for you at the bottom with a grin on his face.