PINEY RIVER — We have been told that one of the best ways to stay healthy during this crazy pandemic and to relieve a little stress is to get outside.
Sounds like good advice to me.
For that reason, the News Virginian and I thought it would be fun to highlight a local trail each week as a place where folks could go to get outside, enjoy nature, and be safe.
The series begins with a real jewel just on the other side of the mountains. It is called the Virginia Blue Ridge Railway Trail, a seven-mile former railroad bed now converted into a multi-use trail. The trail is mostly in Nelson, but meanders a little into Amherst County, and can be accessed from Rt. 151 (Patrick Henry Highway). I have already visited the trail twice this year, once to hike and once to bike, and have thoroughly enjoyed it each time.
Here’s a little history of the trail. Back in 1915 a 15-mile short line railroad was built through the two counties. The purpose was to haul out and sell the dead chestnut trees killed by the devastating Chestnut Blight. When the railroad ceased operating in 1980s it had set the record as the nation’s longest running short line.
A dozen years after the line stopped running, a group of citizens representing the Nelson Bicycling Alliance, the Blue Ridge Saddle and Harness Club and the Blue Ridge Chapter of the Sierra Club purchased the railroad bed with the idea of converting it into a trail. The local governments and even the federal government jumped on board and the project was developed.
The first section, just under two miles, opened in 2003, and more was added until it was finished at seven miles, making a nice, flat out and back journey of 14 miles. Because this was an old railroad bed, the trail is nicely graded and mostly flat. Going out the trail is ever so slightly downhill and the way back is ever so slightly uphill.
As a walker, you will not even notice the grade and even as a cyclist the change is subtle. The path is mostly shady and tree-lined and follows the Piney and Tye Rivers. Views off the trail are either of the river or of spectacular farmland.
If you are on the trail in the spring, summer, or fall, expect to see plenty of wildflowers blooming. The other thing that makes this trail stand out in any season are the ghosts of the old railroad — including plenty of wooden ties and rusted hulks of machinery.
To me, the real selling points of this lovely trail are the renovated railroad bridges, including one 200 feet in length. It is a given that bridges provide good views and are “must” stops for picture taking along the way.
What a lovely trail! Despite winding through trees, the trail is wide enough to be open and airy. The rivers accompany trail goers the entire length. Toward the end of the trail, the river is significant in size and power, but at times during the early part, it is barely noticeable. Beyond a few horse and cattle farms, there is very little development along the trail. The solid rock cliffs along the river serve as a thankful hindrance to development and create a soothing tranquil scene for the visitor.
Dotted quite often along the trail are benches and tables. It was hard to resist just getting stopping and sitting for a spell so I would recommend just giving into the temptation and packing a picnic lunch.
Thumbs up to this trail in any season no matter if you are on foot, on two wheels, or on horseback.
Nancy Sorrells is a columnist and sports writer for the News Virginian.