By Allen Hamrick
Many folks say that wild, wonderful West Virginia is the place to be with all of its untamed rivers and streams, mountainous beauty, forgotten wilderness and trails. Small towns that sprang up along now abandoned rail lines have become nothing but a distant memory yet were once bustling with hard living conditions and a life that families worked through and prospered. We live in a county that embodies all these aspects and more. If you want history, exploration, outdoor activities, and more – we got it. There is a call now more than ever to get out and explore our history and maintain our ancestral heritage before it is gone forever.
Our county was built on the backs of individuals that pushed the boundaries of hard work and determination to build logging and mining communities along the rail lines where they raised families and buried loved ones in cemeteries that dot the hillsides. These communities, Swandale, Avoka, Crestmont and Adair just to name a few, were a part of a rail system that fed the county with coal and lumber. With that being said, there is one way of remembering these communities and their history. There have been many stories already written on the newly opened rail to trail that stretches from Dundon to just above Adair; it is a wonderful way to get out and explore this county. However, if you didn’t either ride the jitney or pedal a rail bike then you nearly lost all hope of doing so. The floods beat the rail hard and nearly closed it down for good, but one could still ride the track so far before having to turn. The BC&G rail excursion had to shut down operations in the last couple of years due to much needed track maintenance.
FEMA stepped in, and a crew came in and reworked the failing track, rebuilt the trusses, replaced thousands of cross ties and made the line a new trail that the county can be proud of. The trail is now extended to a 28 mile round trip excursion through a time when only story keepers and moldy books can remember what was there. The new trail will open up areas of Clay’s past and set you in a wilderness where nature wraps its arms around you and fills your lungs with a renewed passion for the outdoors. The rail also takes you past one of the most scenic creeks in the state that is stocked with trout. Hopefully, this development brings other venues that can thrive in this county if only people will just get out and get moving. You owe it to yourself to take advantage of the opportunities in this county- hiking, fishing, canoeing and biking.
The renovated track will become part of the state park system later on this year. Proposals are now coming in from different companies that will operate the rail line. These companies will be bringing a new look and feel to the line with new types of rail cars and possibly rail busses, but right now it’s up in the air as to who will take over. The first to come and check out the track was Rail Explorers, who started in New York and have spread into Rhode Island, Delaware, Las Vegas, the Catskills, Cooperstown and Boone, Iowa and soon may lay roots in Clay County. They allow nearly 50,000 people a year to ride on the tracks in their rail bikes throughout the country.
The extended outlook for whoever takes it over looks to be full of different opportunities as the years’ progress, whether it be riding, fishing, or shopping. For now, the stage is set for the old BC&G line which is part of the Elk River Trail system to be one of the best in the state and a top destination spot for travelers across the country. A date will be soon given as to when they will reopen the track. So, be one of the first to experience it when they begin running again, a ride that many took in our county’s past as an everyday occurrence that just a few have experienced today. The trout will be stocked, and the only way to get to the good ones is to stretch your legs and travel to the remote honey holes. In the spring, the fish will be biting and the trails waiting. Get out and enjoy, and don’t forget the bait or your camera.
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