Allegheny Trail goes somewhere
Bill Cochran | The Roanoke Times
Allegheny Trail workers hike a section of the yellow-blazed trail near Interstate 64 west of Covington.
When Bob Tabor's company transferred him from Roanoke to Charleston, W.Va., in 1969 he told his friends one of the first things he would do there is organize an Appalachian Trail Club. He had been president of the Roanoke club, and its trail supervisor forfour years.
As it turned out, Charleston had an AT Club, which Tabor joined, and it also had an Izaak Walton League chapter. One evening the league announced it was having a program on water pollution, and that caught Tabor's eye. A gregarious man, he attended the meeting, after his wife warned him not to come back as its president.
"They were looking for a project. I said, `You know, a good project would be to make access to the Appalachian Trail in Monroe County.' Well, in Charleston, most of them hadn't heard of the AT, or Monroe County, either."
On the way out the door, Tabor was stopped by a young man named Nick Loznao who asked, "What do you know about the Appalachian Trail?"
He knew plenty; in fact, Tabor and Loznao stood in a dark parking lot on a cold November night talking about trails and hiking until midnight.
"We had some explaining to do to our wives when we got home," said Tabor.
That's how the Allegheny Trail was born.
Tabor was interested in access to the Appalachian Trail; Loznao's dream was a long-distance trail through West Virginia. The Allegheny Trail is - or will be - both.
The trail has edged its way into Virginia, down to Interstate 64 west of Covington. Now you can get on the Allegheny at the Mason-Dixon Line near Morgantown, W.Va., and hike southward for nearly 250 miles to Exit 1 of Interstate 64 (Jerry's Run exit).
From there is a 20-mile missing link southward to the east side of Virginia 311, then the trail is re-established and hooks into the famed Maine-to-Georgia Appalachian Trail on Peter Mountain north of Pearisburg. When completed, it will be 330 miles long, and there has been talk of extending it to the Georgian Bay of Lake Huron in Canada.
Even now, Tabor said, it answers a complaint he once heard from Grandmother Gatewood, a fabled Appalachian Trail long-distance hiker, who told him. "West Virginia is a beautiful place, but your trails don't go anywhere."
The last 20 miles could be the toughest, said Doug Wood, president of the West Virginia Scenic Trails Association, the organization that oversees the trail work.
"If I were going to guess, I would target [its completion] maybe the year 2000. The reason it is going to take so long to put in 20 miles has nothing to do with labor, it has to do with coaxing the people who have the private land holdings."
The coaxing process has gone extremely well since the parking lot meeting between Tabor and Loznao in the early '70s.
"Everybody said to us, `That's a good idea, but you will never do it,' " said Tabor. " `Look, you are talking about $2,000 per mile,' they said. We were talking about a gallon of paint per mile."
Yellow was chosen - Tabor likes to call it gold - to contrast to the white blazes of the AT and to match the state capitol dome in Charleston. But it also has become a symbol of the solid and valuable determination on the part of volunteers who are members of the West Virginia Scenic Trails Association. Besides, trail workers get the yellow paint free, as a by-product of testing done by the highway department on roadway dividing lines.
Tabor adopted many of the concepts that have been successful on the Appalachian Trail. Volunteers do the work, convincing landowners to let them put the pathway across their property, then building and maintaining the trail once that goodwill is established.
"I knew people would come out, leave the TV set and sweat on the trail, because I'd seen it happen on the AT," he said.
But there is one major difference between the Allegheny and Appalachian trails. For the past 25 years, the Appalachian Trail has been a national scenic trail, which means it receives federal funding for land purchases. Landowners unwilling to sell property for the right-of-way face condemnation procedures, although such force is used as little as possible.
The Allegheny Trail lacks federal or state funding and authority, something members of the West Virginia Scenic Trails Association say they don't want to see changed. From the beginning, the association established itself as a loose-knit, nonprofit corporation strictly in the trail-building business with no environmental agenda.
To be sure, lacking a protected right-of-way could cause the trail to get knocked off course by a disgruntled landowner, but that's happened only once since 1972, said Wood.
"There is a downside to purchasing property," he said. "Sometimes it makes enemies of the local people. We are trying to avoid that at all cost."
In fact, there have been times when state and federal officials have been a more reluctant partner than private landowners, he said.
The association plotted the trial to embraces as many of West Virginia's scenic attractions as possible: Blackwater Falls State Park, Canaan Valley State Park, the National Radio Astronomy Observatory, Cass Scenic Railroad, Seneca State Forest, Watoga State Park. It also crosses the Monongahela, George Washington and Jefferson national forests.
Trail workers had to convince West Virginia officials that they wouldn't just cut a path through a scenic spot and abandon it. And elected officials "wouldn't have anything to do with us" because of their ties to the timber and coal industry, Tabor said.
The U.S. Forest Service assigned the trail a low priority, and sometimes would move it for a timber sale without informing the trail association, said Wood.
State and federal officials have become more willing partners; and corporations, like Westvaco, also have provided valuable assistance.
This has encouraged association members to give serious attention to developing a second project, the Mary Ingles Trail, one that would trace a large portion of the 449-mile route taken by a pioneer woman after escaping her Indian captors.
Roanoker Leonard Adkins, the author of "Walking the Blue Ridge" is credited with being the first hiker to complete the Allegheny Trail. He has done it twice and praises its diversity, which includes lofty, spruce-covered knobs and pastoral valley streams like the Greenbrier River.
Walking the entire trail is a monthlong endeavor, but there are numerous opportunities for day and overnight hikes, said Roger Hardway, vice president of the trail association. The pathway is yet to be discovered by the masses, which is an advantage if you are searching for solitude, he said. Hardway recently spent three days hiking from Lake Sherwood southward and did not see another hiker.
The West Virginia Scenic Trails Association has an open membership. Annual dues are $5 for individuals, $7 for families and $12 for benefactors. An additional $5 is charged first-time members. Volunteer workers especially are welcome, particularly people in the Alleghany, Craig and Giles county area. Contact the association at P.O. Box 4042, Charleston, W.Va. 25364.
A 108-page trail guide is available for $8 from Hiking Guide, P.O. Box 4042, Charleston, W. Va. 25364