By WHITNEY BURDETTE ∙ firstname.lastname@example.org
History buffs, rail fans and outdoor enthusiasts may not usually converge on one spot, but they do in North Central West Virginia.
The North Bend Rail Trail is a 72-mile section of trail formerly occupied by the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad. The line was originally constructed between 1851 and 1857, but it was removed in the 1980s. That left behind a perfect opportunity for a rail trail that is now part of the American Discover Trail, which extends across the United States from Cape Henlopen, Del., to Point Reyes, Calif.
Today, the public can access the trail year-round for hiking, biking and horseback riding. Both North Bend Rail Trail State Park and the North Bend Rails to Trails Foundation offer events throughout the year.
"We have a lot of equestrian use," said Jesse Ulderich, superintendent of the North Bend Rail Trail. "This weekend, we had a wagon train on the trail. Probably two to three times a summer, we have wagon trains. They'll be on the trail for up to a week."
Typically, no motorized vehicles are allowed on the trail, although the park does make exceptions for maintenance and emergencies. To keep motor vehicles off the trail, 199 gates have been installed at strategic access points. But because the trail goes through so many communities along U.S. Route 50 in Wood, Ritchie, Doddridge and Harrison counties, keeping vehicles off the trail presents a challenge.
"And that's to ensure the safety of the people on the trails and to keep that kind of environment," Steve Jones, superintendent of North Bend State Park, said of the gates. "You want to get away from civilization and the noise and everyday life and to get out in nature and experience something a little bit different."
Only a portion of the trail is paved, while the rest is covered with crushed limestone. And while maintenance on the trail is the park's responsibility, the Rails to Trails Foundation offers behind-the-scenes support.
"They're the ones who do the work, and we just try to help promote it and get grants to improve the trail," said Ken Adams, who serves on the foundation's board of directors.
One way the foundation helps is by securing money for equipment used to maintain the trail. Ulderich said the entire trail is mowed three times each summer, from North Bend State Park to points east and then west. Adams said the foundation worked to purchase a trailer that can haul equipment back to the park once mowing is completed.
"It's been a great help," Ulderich said.
The foundation also purchased saws to help park maintenance cut downed trees and limbs after last year's derecho.
The trail also supports many local businesses, including Country Trails Bikes and the Cairo Supply Company, both located in the Ritchie County town of Cairo. Ron and D.J. Allen have owned the bike shop for 17 years, and D.J. said the couple sees people from all over the globe come to enjoy the trail.
"The bike shop and general store cater to visitors and locals alike who want to take full advantage of the trail," Allen said. "People from around the world, literally, have visited, signed the register and shared stories about their travels on the trail, or have sought guidance on what to expect on the trail."
The bike shop and store features an information center where people can learn more about the trail and its history.
"We want them to have a good time," Allen said. "We want them to enjoy the great outdoors, see the deer and wildlife and just get out and clear their head in this awesome wonder."