By ANDREA LANNOM ∙ email@example.com
ELKINS — From sweeping grassy meadows near Elkins to the banks of Black Fork, the 25-mile Allegheny Highlands Trail offers avid outdoor adventurers several ways to explore the northeastern part of the state.
What once was an old commuter rail line is now a biking and walking trail that winds its way from Elkins to Hendricks.
Gordon Blackley, a member of the board of directors of the Highlands Trail Foundation, estimates the biking trail was created about 15 years ago. Half of the trail, Blackley described, is paved, and the rest is gravel.
The trail also features a once-abandoned bridge in Parsons. The completion of construction on this bridge has made it much easier to get through Parsons, Blackley said.
The Allegheny Highlands Trail also has seen some notable praise. The Rails to Trails Conservancy selected the Allegheny Highlands Trail as its trail of the month for July 2008.
In the Rails to Trails article, Kelly Pack, manager of trail development for Rails to Trails Conservancy, described the trail as a "long-distance, well-maintained trail in the middle of one of the most pristine and protected areas of the state."
Blackley said the trail sees its share of walkers. For the most part, however, people bike the trail.
Whether it's bicyclists or walkers, the trail sees lots of traffic, Blackley said. Plus, geocaching draws its own crowd. Caches are only about a mile apart, Blackley said.
According to geocaching.com, geocaching is a "real-world, outdoor treasure hunting game using GPS-enabled devices."
"We've got 24 caches along the trail, and every time someone finds one of them, they log that into their personal cache finding page. That automatically notifies me because I'm the caching person. I get four or five of them a day," Blackley said, noting geocaching has been a popular activity on the trail for three to four years.
"People come from all over to ride that trail," Blackley added. "Geocaching helps because that's a whole other niche for people who are trail riders."
Blackley said the foundation hosts several biking and socialization events.
The first, hosted in July, is the Great Tour de Moccaccino IV. This poker run starts from the Highland Park trailhead in Elkins and the Parsons Depot and ends at the Montrose trailhead.
Participants at the start of the run are dealt three cards at the start of the trail. When they reach the end at Montrose, they get the other two cards. Winners from each direction win $50.
The Highlands Trail Foundation also hosts a guided bike ride down Blackwater Canyon in September.
Participants meet at a coffeehouse in Thomas and end at the historic railroad depot in Parsons. A guide typically takes a group of three or four members down the trail at a time