Sunday, August 12, 2012

Taking the fort by land and by sea

Well, okay, the title is a bit over-dramatic. I visited Prickett’s Fort State Park (near Fairmont, West Virginia) twice this weekend, once via bicycle and once with my kayak. Prickett’s Fort is a recreation of the original fort which was built in 1774 to protect early settlers in the area from Indian attacks. It features re-enactors who help to tell the story of life on the frontier in this area.

On Saturday morning in Morgantown, I left on my bicycle and worked my way over to the trail at the end of Collins Ferry Road. This narrow trail down the hill is where Collins Ferry Road gets its name—even though the current road dead ends, in the old days it led horses and wagons down the hill to a ferry crossing. As I coasted down the remaining dirt path, I obliterated an unseen spider’s web that had spanned the pathway between trees on each side. [I bet that spider thought “If only the web would have held, I could have eaten on that for years!”]

Soon I was headed up the Monongahela River on the rail trail from Morgantown. About 26 miles later, I arrived at Prickett’s Fort. It was fun riding alongside the river, passing three massive locks and dams that allow boats to travel to Fairmont. I also passed a long row of abandoned brick coke ovens—evidence of the coal industry that had once dominated the area. [A simply analogy is that coke is to coal what charcoal is to wood.] Arriving at Prickett’s Fort, there is a high railroad bridge that spans the Mon River, but it has clearly been abandoned. What once was an engineering marvel that helped move tons and tons of coal north to Pittsburgh steel furnaces is now a rusting hulk.

I had made this ride from Morgantown to Prickett’s Fort about four years ago, and at that time had continued on a small connector trail that leads a couple of miles from the fort into downtown Fairmont. Yesterday I just wanted to do some scouting for a potential kayak outing on Prickett’s Creek, before turning around and pedaling back to Morgantown.

Today, Anna and I loaded up our kayaks and headed to the boat ramp at Prickett’s Fort. It was a beautiful day as we paddled up Prickett’s Creek. It was soon obvious that the wildlife was abundant here. We had large blue herons squawking at us, smaller greenback herons watching us intently, and even a white heron stalking fish along the banks. Kingfishers and killdeer also flitted about, as well as the numerous ducks and geese. We paddled through literal swarms of minnows—hundreds of them swimming in circles but in unison. We also saw several larger fish as well. A variety of colorful wildflowers decorated the banks—cardinal flowers, ironweed, Joe Pye weed, etc. Most of our creek trek was in a wilderness area shielded from the park, but soon we saw the roadway that led to the park entrance. We were able to paddle under the first car bridge and continue going upstream until the second car bridge before turning around.

After following a different channel back downstream, we headed out onto the Mon River. We crossed under the old train bridge and continued upstream for a good distance before turning around and heading back to the boat ramp. The river is nice, but the smaller creeks are always more interesting for kayaking. Soon we were back on shore and loading up. We didn’t visit the actual fort on this trip, because we have visited it several times in the past. If you haven’t been there, I highly recommend checking it out. It is especially great to take children there for a “living history” lesson about our forefathers. Plus, Prickett’s Fort makes for a great bicycling or kayaking destination!

My ten foot orange kayak stowed inside my Prius, with Prickett’s Fort in the background.

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