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RAILS TO TRAILS

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Cooperation from railroad, Norfolk Southern Corporation, has helped Commonwealth of Virginia acquire several important rail corridors for trail conversion.

arrowThis project was nominated for a Corporate Award as part of the 2008 National Trails Awards, announced at the 19th National Trails Symposium in Little Rock, Arkansas.

 

Norfolk Southern Railroad works with Virginia on rails to trails projects


photo of concrete post

Old Railroad bridge abutment
(photo by R. Kevin Combs)

 

Norfolk Southern Corporation has partnered with state and federal agencies and local organizations within the Commonwealth of Virginia to develop over 285 miles of rails to trails projects. Their corporate generosity has and will make it possible for millions of outdoor enthusiasts to enjoy healthy recreation and outstanding scenery.

Nationally recognized rails to trails projects include the 33 mile long Virginia Creeper Trail, managed by the George Washington and Jefferson National Forests, and the 57 mile long New River Trail State Park, managed by the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation (VDCR). Additional projects include the Staunton River Bridge Battlefield State Park and High Bridge State Park, managed by VDCR, and the Tobacco Heritage Trail in southern Virginia, which is a work in progress with the Roanoke River Rail to Trails organization. Norfolk Southern continues to provide technical assistance with infrastructure (trestle and bridge repairs) as well as historical railroad artifacts for trail side displays for New River Trail State Park.

 

Virginia Creeper Trail

One of Virginia's finest rail-trail, the Virginia Creeper National Recreation Trail occupies the bed of what was once a rugged mountain railroad between Abingdon and the Virginia-North Carolina border about a mile east of Whitetop Community. The trail began as a Native American footpath. Later it was used by European pioneers including Daniel Boone. By 1907, W.B. Mingea had constructed the Virginia Carolina Railroad from Abingdon to Damascus. The line was extended by Hassinger Lumber Co. to Konnarock and Elkland, NC. It hauled lumber, iron ore, supplies and passengers. It got its nickname "Virginia Creeper" from the early steam locomotives as they struggled slowly up steep grades.

photo of bridge with wood walkway

Bridge at Fries Junction on New River
Trail (photo by R. Kevin Combs)

With about 100 trestles and bridges, sharp curves and steep grades, the Virginia Creeper was the quintessential mountain railroad. Crews faced wash-outs, rock slides and other hazards, but it was economics that sounded the line's death whistle. Having failed to turn a profit since the Great Depression, the Creeper ran its last train on March 31, 1977.

From Abingdon to Damascus, the trail right-of-way belongs to the two towns, but most of the actual land is private. The trail between Damascus and the North Carolina border, except for a short stretch through Taylor's Valley, is administered by the Mount Rogers National Recreation Area staff.

 

New River Trail State Park

In 1986, Norfolk Southern donated 57 miles of abandoned rail road bed for the creation of the New River Trail State Park in Southwest Virginia. The New River Trail has been designated a National Recreational Trail and a National Millennium Legacy Trail. It runs along the New River for more than forty miles giving users extraordinary scenic views of this American Heritage River. The park has 28 bridges, two tunnels, innumerable culverts and dozens of crossings.

 

Tobacco Heritage Trail

“Roanoke River Rails to Trails has been working since 2005 to acquire 160 miles of abandoned railroad right of way from Norfolk Southern for the Tobacco Heritage Trail in southern Virginia. Agency representatives have gone out of their way to help us preserve the historic corridor for a multiuse public trail. Their cooperation has been essential for the successes we have had so far, and will continue to be important as we move forward.”

 

Staunton River Bridge Battlefield State Park

photo of tall bridge

The big trestle at High Bridge Trail State Park

In 1993, Norfolk Southern donated the historic Staunton River Bridge and approximately 1 mile of abandoned rail bed creating a link between the Civil War fortifications on the southern side of the Staunton [Roanoke] River in Halifax County to the northern edge of the Town of Randolph in Charlotte County. Opportunities may exist in the future for the inclusion of additional abandoned rail line to continue extending north toward the new High Bridge Trail State Park

 

High Bridge Trail State Park

Citing the success of other state rail-to-trail efforts in providing recreational opportunities for local residents and tourism development opportunities for the communities, Norfolk Southern offered the corridor to the Commonwealth to be used as a state park. With the support of the local county and municipal governments, the Virginia General Assembly authorized the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation to accept the donation of the corridor during the 2005 session.

Eric Hougland, who has worked with DCR for 13 years, will manage the new High Bridge Trail State Park. He worked at New River Trail State Park, also a linear rail-to-trail park, for 10 years.

 

Read more about the High Bridge Trail State Park

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