PRINCETON — An almost forgotten railroad could become a big part of a new trail for hikers, bicycle enthusiasts and horseback riders that are interested in exploring the mountains and forests of Mercer and Summers counties.
Mercer County Commissioner Bill Archer said that both Mercer County and neighboring Summers County are working on plans to develop hiking trails and water trails. The hope is that an old railroad right of way going through part of Mercer County will form a connection with trails in Summers County and beyond. This former railroad line was mostly forgotten until its existence became part of negotiations in the 1990s, Archer recalled.
“Back in early 1990 when the commission was working with the Department of Highways to locate District 10 headquarters where it is at Exit 14, a question arose,” Archer said. “There was going to be a three-way swap between the federal government, the highway department and the (county) commission.”
The Mercer County Commission received the property which became the location of the Mercer County Courthouse Annex. The state forestry department got a 23-acre site along Gardner Road which was later converted into a wetland. The state Department of Highways received the property near Exit 14 off Interstate 77; it became the site of District 10’s headquarters.
While these negotiations were underway, it was discovered that the descendants of the Bluestone Lumber Company, which operated near Exit 14, had the title to a 32-foot-wide narrow-gauge railroad line that ran all the way to Flat Top, Archer said. The county now owns the right of way.
“That railroad line and the right of way for it connects Mercer County and Summers County at Pipestem State Park,” Archer said. “It also extends out to Camp Creek State Park; it’s a network. So we’re working together with Camp Creek State Park, Pipestem State Park and Summers County to develop a larger network of hiking, mountain bicycle trails and equestrian trails on this way.”
No motorized vehicles like ATVs or motorcycles would be allowed on this trail, but it has “a lot of potential,” Archer said.
Summers County is working to develop its trails, too. County Commissioner Jack David Woodrum said he was looking at the Great Eastern Trail, which parralels the Appalachian Trail in Giles County, Va. The Great Eastern Trail and the Mary Draper Ingles Trail run to Bluestone Lake together. The Mary Ingles Trail then goes down the New River while the Great Eastern Trail turns up the Bluestone River Gorge.
Part of this plan would be to build up the Greater Eastern Trail in Summers County, Woodrum said.
This trail could come down from the New River, around Bluestone Lake, then continue up the Bluestone River and pass through Bluestone State Park and Pipestem State Park, and then continue up the river approximately 28 miles to Camp Creek State Park, he said. It could go through the Brush Creek area and come out in the vicinity of Princeton.
“The goal is to create a multi-use trail for hikers, bicyclists and horseback riders,” Woodrum stated. Like Archer, Woodrum said this trail would not be for motorized vehicles. Another goal is to establish river trails, which are popular with boaters and fishing enthusiasts, and try to utilize some of the same infrastructure for both systems.
Both Mercer and Summers counties plan to apply, with the help of the Region One Planning & Development Council, for state Department of Highways grants. Archer said he was applying for a $150,000 grant that would fund the project’s design phase. Factors such as restroom facilities, the trail’s route, and signage have to be considered. Plans calls for submitting the counties’ grant applications by Jan. 18.
“It’s a pretty exciting concept because it really networks a broad geographical area,” Archer said. “We owe our thanks to the courts of 1991 for determining who owns that railroad right of way.”
— Contact Greg Jordan at email@example.com