Sunday, March 30, 2008
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A wealth of trails at Poverty Creek

The Poverty Creek Trail System around Pandapas Pond is a maze of interconnected paths.

A runner jogs along the 7.2-mile Poverty Creek Trail, the backbone of the Poverty Creek Trail System, in Jefferson National Forest in western Montgomery County. The trail system features 17 miles of various loops and terrain that will eventually be tied into the Huckleberry Trail system.

File October | The Roanoke Times

A runner jogs along the 7.2-mile Poverty Creek Trail, the backbone of the Poverty Creek Trail System, in Jefferson National Forest in western Montgomery County. The trail system features 17 miles of various loops and terrain that will eventually be tied into the Huckleberry Trail system.

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BLACKSBURG -- If anyone knows the trail systems around Blacksburg, it is James DeMarco.

DeMarco owns Blacksburg running shop Runabout Sports and coaches the Blacksburg High School cross country team. He also directs the Blacksburg Striders, a local running club that meets twice weekly during the summer months.

With so many running responsibilities in his life, DeMarco has to know where to point his many running constituents. He said he particularly enjoys the Poverty Creek Trail System because of its variety of connected looping trails.

The Poverty Creek Trail System wraps around the Pandapas Pond area between Brush Mountain and Gap Mountain. The trails loop around the pond and up both mountains. The backbone of the system is the 7.2-mile Poverty Creek Trail, which connects with 14 other trails.

DeMarco's only complaint of the trail system is the lack of signage. There is a new loop seemingly around every corner, and according to DeMarco, it can be easy to get turned around.

"The entire system is connected, and that's useful but tricky at the same time," DeMarco said. "When runners get out there, they see the trail sign and know where to turn. But there a couple that aren't easy to spot because they're made of wood.

"You're always in the same system, but it is easy to be on a trail you don't mean to be on. I always tell my runners to learn the actual Poverty Trail first, because once they know it, they can explore the other looping trails around it."

Poverty Creek and the corresponding trail system lie in National Forest, so the U.S. Forestry Service is responsible for it. District Ranger Cindy Schiffer and visitor information assistant Barbara Walker have taken recent hikes along the system to identify areas that need more markings or signs.

"We know that a lot of people use it and I think people who don't go anywhere else in the National Forest use the Poverty Creek Trails because they're so convenient and close to town," Walker said. "There's a wide spectrum of use, including mountain bikers and horse riders. It's a great asset for this area."

Walker says the Forestry Service will be adding more signs soon.

"We haven't determined a particular number of new signs right now," Walker said. "But you don't want to have more signs than you need, to where they distract users from the beauty of the forest. At the same time, it is good to have a marker periodically so that users know they are on the trail they started on."

Another troubling issue is the increase in trail users creating their own new paths through the system. The Forestry Service forbids "user-created" trails because they typically stretch onto privately owned land. Such trails also create confusion because they are unmarked.

"Our brochures and maps are oriented similarly to ski maps in that the circles represented easy trails, black diamonds for most difficult, etc., and we are moving to use those same symbols on each trail," Schiffer said.

"Ideally, users wouldn't have to use maps because the trails are marked so well. But that's very difficult when we have people creating their own trails off of the actual system. We're going to be putting a lot of energy into marking all the system trails with blazes so that users can distinguish main trails from user-created trails."

Schiffer is also working with a local volunteer group called the Friends of Pandapas Pond to examine the possibility of future loops off the Poverty Creek Trail System.

Appalachian Trail Conservancy employee Kerry Wood coordinates the Friends of Pandapas Pond. They meet twice a month to work on erosion issues or other rehabilitation projects.

"The actual Poverty Creek Trail, which is an easy trail, offers looping trails that are rather difficult," Schiffer said. "We're trying to provide more lower-difficulty trails further out in the system to create more diversity for users."

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According to Schiffer, the Poverty Creek Trail System connects to Blacksburg via the Gateway Trail. The Gateway Trail was built through cooperation between the town and federal agencies.

There are plans to link the Gateway Trail with the widely used Huckleberry Trail, which runs from the Blacksburg Public Library on South Main Street to the New River Valley Mall in Christiansburg, Schiffer said.

Linking the Gateway Trail and Huckleberry would link both with the Poverty Creek system.

DeMarco said he thinks such a wide-ranging linking effort would be great for the area.

"The extensions give more people access to the all the trails for running and biking," DeMarco said. "I like all the potential inter-connectedness because it gives a great chance of creating a Blacksburg marathon. We could have a very scenic route, and primarily stay off the town roads."

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