Sunday, August 18, 2013

The Allegheny Highlands Trail

I ventured to Parsons recently to add another West Virginia bike trail to my list. I’ve done the North Bend Rail Trail, the Greenbrier River Trail, the West Fork Rail Trail, the Deckers Creek Rail Trail, and the Mon River Trail. This time I wanted to try the Allegheny Highlands Trail, an abandoned train line now converted for bicyclists, hikers, etc. I parked at the old train station visitor center parking lot (along Rt. 219 behind Sheetz) and hopped on my bike. The first five miles or so are paved for easy riding.

As I left Parsons, I soon encountered the first of several historical markers about the 1861 Battle of Corricks Ford. Being a Civil War buff, I stopped to read them all. Most people don’t realize how important “Western Virginia” was during the first year of the Civil War, as Confederate forces sought to secure all of Virginia, including the B&O Railroad. Union forces under General George McClellen were sent to protect the vital railroads, and push the Confederates out of “loyal Virginia”—paving the way for West Virginia to become a state.

Corricks Ford received lots of national press coverage because it was the first time that a general (for either side) had been killed in battle. Confederate General Robert Garnett was killed along the banks of the Shavers Fork of the Cheat River, and his body was brought by Union troops to the Corrick house, which still stands near the bike trail. As other major battles occurred during the later years of the Civil War, the early battles in what is now West Virginia were crowded out of the history books, but in 1861 the eyes of the nation were upon this area.

Beyond the battlefield, the next landmark was the Kingsford Charcoal Factory. I always prefer Kingsford for my cookouts, because of its West Virginia connection. I thought it was interesting to see this large industrial complex along the Shavers Fork.

Not long thereafter, the trail veered away from the river, and started working its way uphill. This rail-trail diverts onto a country road for a while, although I did not have to deal with much traffic. Soon, I was off the road and on a hard-packed gravel trail, going up through the forest. I could sometimes hear (and occasionally glimpse) U.S. Route 219 off to my right, but mostly it was just beautiful West Virginia woods. Around every bend, I kept hoping to see the crest of the hill, but it seemed each new stretch of the trail continued upward. I pressed onward.

Finally, I crossed the top and started down the other side. The downhill section was nice, but to my disappointment, not nearly as long as the uphill stretch had been. The trail crossed Rt. 219 a couple of times (be careful!) and spends most of the next ten miles or so rolling through the countryside, with no more major hills. Often it runs beside a lovely little creek, and in the distance one can see the giant wind turbines on a high ridge. The trail also runs past Elkins Speedway, where race cars fly around the dirt oval on Friday nights.

The last few miles of the trail are paved, making for a nice ride. Eventually, I reached the end of the trail, just a mile from downtown Elkins, and about 21 miles from where I began in Parsons. Plans were recently announced to finish the trail all the way into downtown, but for now (unless you want to run alongside the highway), it ends at Milepost One. I took a break and ate the lunch I brought with me, before heading back.

It was fun to see things from a different angle on the way back. After about a dozen miles or so of relatively flat peddling, I began to climb out of the Tygart watershed. Fortunately, since I was not as energetic as when I had begun this journey, the Elkins side of the mountain is not as intimidating as the Parsons side. It still felt good to reach the cut through the rock that marks the crest of this old rail line.

From that point on, it was seven miles of downhill all the way to Parsons and the Cheat River. What a nice way to end a wonderful day on a bike trail through West Virginia!

If you are considering biking this trail, I highly recommend starting on the Parsons end, so you can hit the big hill while you are fresh, and then reward yourself with the nearly effortless downhill ride at the end of the day. If you don’t think you are ready for a 42 mile round trip, then I still would start at Parsons, because one can read all the Civil War markers, see the Kingsford plant, and enjoy the whitewater of the Shavers Fork, all within about a five mile round trip.

Regardless of how far you go, I had a great time on the Allegheny Highland Trail, and encourage others to check it out.

Looking up Shavers Fork toward the Kingsford factory.

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