Can you imagine a West Virginia State Park about 80 miles long and only 100 feet wide? If so, then you have pictured the Greenbrier River Trail State Park, which has the distinction of being both the longest and the skinniest State Park in West Virginia. It is long and skinny because it is a former railroad bed that has been converted into a trail. Previously part of the Greenbrier Division of the Chesapeake and Ohio Railway (C&O), trains carried freight and passengers along the banks of the Greenbrier River in Pocahontas and Greenbrier Counties for nearly 80 years. But when the line became unprofitable in the 1970s, C&O eventually donated the corridor to the state in 1978. By 1980 the old railroad bed had been authorized by the State Legislature for public use as a rail trail according to Jody Spencer, Park Superintendent. Gail Hyer of the Pocahontas County Convention and Visitors Bureau noted that the trail suffered damage in the flood of 1985 that wasn’t fully repaired until 1994. More damage occurred in the flood of 1996 that took three years of restoration. The flood of June 2016 also damaged the trail. Repairs are now underway, and the trail is gradually being restored.
|Pocahontas Conv. Bureau|
Despite the setbacks, the Greenbrier River Trail (GRT) has not only survived; it has thrived. Today the GRT is one of West Virginia’s most successful and popular rail-to-trail conversions. Backpacker Magazine ranked the GRT as one of the top ten hiking trails in the United States. Moreover in October 1999, the GRT became one of 50 of the Nation’s Millennium Legacy Trails. Selected from nominations by the governors of the United States and its Territories, these trails reflect the essence and spirit of our nation.
|Pocahontas Conv. Bureau|
A Recreation Gateway
Running 80 miles down the spine of the Allegheny Highlands of West Virginia, the GRT sports unique recreational opportunities in the State. The trail traverses 30 bridges and two tunnels and is a gateway to some of West Virginia’s most refreshing scenery. The trail passes through the Monongahela National Forest; Cass, Watoga, and Droop Mountain State Parks; and Greenbrier and Seneca State Forests. With 19 trailheads scattered along its length, the trail can be broken into dozens of short hikes, either round trip or one way. There are a few primitive campsites along the trail, for those who want to take a few days and traverse the entire length. Sources of drinking water and toilets are scattered along the route, as are grocery stops. Lodging at State Parks, local motels, privately-owned cottages, and bed and breakfasts is also available along the trail. It is little wonder that the trail is busy with bikers, hikers and horseback riders. As GRT follows the banks of the Greenbrier River through rural Greenbrier and Pocahontas Counties, the river meanders in a wide, shallow, gravel-lined bed that comforts the eye and in summer, invites fishing, wading, canoeing and paddle-boarding. The trail surface is primarily ¼” crushed limestone and electric-powered chairs and scooters are permitted for disabled use only.
|Photo by Drema Morgan|
But Wait, There’s More!
The GRT is undoubtedly one of the best hiking and biking venues in West Virginia. But a closer look at the GRT reveals that there’s much more to being a traveler along this long and winding road through our State. For my wife, Phyllis, and me the main attraction is wildflowers. From the first bloodroot of spring to that last blossom of fall, we search the state for wildflowers and their hang-outs. The New River Gorge is a haven for spring wildflowers, but by summer we turn our attention elsewhere to maintain the hunt. Last July, on a tip by our friend Drema Morgan, a WV South writer and photographer, we headed out to the GRT. She reported seeing a Turk’s cap lily on the southern end of the trail. That was enough to send Phyllis and me out the door and down the road. After downloading a trail map, we decided to start at the North Caldwell trailhead at milepost 3. From Beckley it was an easy drive on I-64 East to Exit 169 at Lewisburg. From there we drove north on US 219 for ½ mile, turned east onto Brush Road (Rt. 30), then, after ½ mile, continued onto Stone House Road (Rt. 38) for another three miles to the trailhead.
|Turk's Cap Lilies|
My next blog will have more about wildflowers on the GRT. Click here.