Thursday, January 01, 2004
On the path of patriots in Franklin County
Franklin County's slow growth also means addition mountain bike trails on its many wilderness areas
Then Jim Palmieri and I rolled past a crowded soccer field in Franklin County's Waid Recreation Area. We crossed the main park road and followed Scott Martin up a grassy hill.
There stood two tall brick chimneys, ruins of an old Revolutionary War-era stagecoach stop. Opposite them was old barn where a blacksmith shod travelers' horses and fixed wooden-wheeled wagons. With a bit of imagination, you could almost hear horses' hooves clacking, mules huffing and wood joints of Conestoga wagons groaning.
There stood two tall brick chimneys, ruins of an old Revolutionary War-era stagecoach stop. Opposite them was old barn.
These were fixtures on the famed Carolina Road, about 4,000 feet of which passes through the burgeoning county park.
The rutted, Colonial-era turnpike was considered the I-95 of its day, and according to history books, George Washington and Daniel Boone were among the people who journeyed on it. Later the property was known as the Waid tobacco farm.
Far more recently, Franklin County has turned the land into other uses. Beautifully built baseball diamonds and soccer fields are carved into 512 acres that roll across red-clay swells. The fields draw scores of kids and parents each weekend, and covered picnic shelters with modern playground equipment allow moms and dads to keep a close eye on adventuresome toddlers.
Then there is the multi-use trail system. Waid has seven miles of developed trails of just about every style imaginable, and more are on the way. That's one of the things that drew Jim Palmieri and me to the park on a recent Saturday morning.
The other was the offer of a guided tour from Martin, the new director of the Franklin County Parks and Recreation Department.
Mountain-bike minded parks guy
Fresh from a parks gig in Boise, Idaho, where he helped manage 93 miles of mountain bike trails, Martin turned his attention to Waid Recreation Area as soon as he started his job.
Martin quickly realized Waid's potential as a mountain-biking venue.
This region has a few of those already, such as Mountain Lake, Carvins Cove and Pandapas Pond. But none of these is an honest-to-goodness park.
Explore is a living history museum. Mountain Lake is a private nature preserve. Carvins Cove is a watershed where biking is only grudgingly allowed. And Pandapas Pond is nestled in the George Washington and Jefferson National Forests.
"I think there's 11 miles of total trails here that will be accessible once some minor improvements are made," Martin said of Waid.
Something for everyone
With woods and meadows, farm fields and river crossings, challenging hills and relaxing flats, Waid has something for every off-road, two-wheel enthusiast -- and everyone else.
For more than 10 years, Franklin County has moved slowly in developing the park. The ball fields and picnic grounds now take up about 30 acres.
Trail-wise, Waid has one thing I haven't seen in any other popular mountain-biking spots in this region: a 4-foot wide hard-packed cinder trail that meets federal Americans-with-Disability-Act standards.
This trail twists and turns a level three-quarters of a mile through a thick pine grove before dumping you out near a historic, 52-foot truss bridge across the Pigg River. It was built in 1915 by the Roanoke Iron and Bridge Co., and originally crossed a stream in Pembroke before it was disassembled and moved to Franklin in 1996.
The bridge leads to more dirt paths that run along the river. Right now they're dead ends, but Martin is keen to the risks that opening up trails brings.
"The challenge is balancing public access while preserving the values and resources that make the public want to visit in the first place," Martin said.
Martin took Palmieri and me on a circuitous route across hill and dale, up a small mountain, past a working farm, through a cold (and deep!) river, and finally, back to the ball fields. It included well-laid paths and trails in the rough that Franklin County hopes to develop by this summer for a giant mountain bike race.
We started on traditional single-track trails just off the main park road, then quickly shifted to a section of the old Floyd Turnpike, another Colonial-era thoroughfare that ran from Franklin County to Floyd. Here and there in the path are old cobblestones embedded in dirt.
Martin then led us on a succession of farm roads (the county still leases part of the park to farmers), through freshly tilled fields (inadvisable mountain biking terrain, unless you're a strong-legged masochist who digs riding on soft sand) and through two fords of the rain-swollen Pigg River.
These were almost as wide as parts of the Roanoke River through Smith Park, and about a foot deep. We all had to walk the river, but Martin says it will be shallow enough to ride by August, when Franklin County intends to host one of the biggest mountain biking races this area has ever seen.
The big race
Scheduled for Aug. 18, the whole shebang is being underwritten by MW Windows in Rocky Mount, one of Franklin County's largest employers. The race will be called the MW Country Mountain Bike Classic.
The county intends to attract ranked riders and novices with a prize package that most mountain bike race promoters can only dream of. No water bottles or boxes of PowerBars here: the grand prize is a full set of new windows for the winner's house. Another of the big prizes is a free week's rental of a waterfront home on Smith Mountain Lake.
Dan Casey | The Roanoke Times
Jim Palmieri (front) is followed by Scott Martin, an official with Franklin County Parks and Recreation, on a ride in the 512-acre Waid Recreation Area near Ferrum.
Eureka! Waid has BATHROOMS!
I usually use this section to remind folks that they are heading into wilderness and they've got to bring every possible thing they think they'll need -- including toilet paper. But here, there are modern outhouses near the baseball diamonds, and actual modern facilities near some the picnic grounds. If you're biking at Waid, you can leave the toilet paper at home.
That said, I didn't check to make sure there's running water in the restrooms. So bring plenty of your own. There's also no snack bar in the park, but you can pick up essentials at a convenience store just a couple miles before you get there.
Martin will appreciate it very much if you pick up your own PowerBar wrappers, and any others that you stumble across out there on Waid's trails.
And he'd like to hear from you, too, about what Franklin County can do to make Waid an even better mountain-biking experience. Feel free to e-mail him here.
Directions to Waid Recreation Area
It'll take you about 45 minutes to get from downtown Roanoke to Waid Recreation Area. From Roanoke, take U.S. 220 south past Rocky Mount, then U.S. 40 west toward Ferrum. Go a few miles to the 40 West Minute Market, and make a right at the light there (just before the market is the sign, "Waid Recreation Area" with a right-turn arrow). Go 2 miles until you see the entrance for Waid on your left. Take the left, drive about a mile, and look for a place to park.
Right now, there's no map of the trails, so you'll have to explore on your own.