Trail of the Month: May 2002
Lake Mineral Wells State Trailway, Texas
Connecting the historic downtown of Mineral Wells with Lake Mineral State Park and the town of Weatherford, Texas, the Lake Mineral Wells State Trailway takes users on a 20-mile journey through quiet neighborhoods and pristine prairie expanses that are typical of the Cross Timbers region of Texas, which is 50 miles west of the Dallas/Fort Worth metropolitan area.
The first two miles of trail out of Mineral Wells are paved, making it the perfect in-town setting for walking, running, bicycling or inline skating. As the trail continues east toward Lake Mineral Wells State Park the surface changes to finely crushed and screened limestone. Six miles from Mineral Wells the trail spans four heavily traveled lanes of traffic on Highway 180 via a 500-foot bridge adorned with 104 stars. Less than a mile later, at the park entrance, equestrians are allowed to enter the trail for the peaceful 14-mile trip to the Weatherford trailhead.
The trail passes horse ranches, hayfields and pastures dotted with grazing longhorn cattle; only the bubbling tributaries of the nearby Brazos and Trinity rivers break the sweep of meadowland. This area is pure Texas - a mosaic of wild plum, cottonwood, cactus, blue stem and native buffalo grass. If you look closely you may catch a view of the Rio Grande turkeys, bobcats and whitetail deer that roam the surrounding rocky ridges.
By taking a short connector trail into the 3,000-acre state park, trail users have access to 21 miles of rugged hiking, mountain biking and horseback riding trails. Park activities include boating (canoes, rowboats and paddleboats are available for rent), fishing and some of the region's best natural rock climbing and rappelling at the Penitentiary Hollow Climbing Area.
Opened on June 6, 1998, the Lake Mineral Wells State Trailway is managed by the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department (TPWD). During the planning stages for the trail, public meetings were held to hear public comment. Residents from both Mineral Wells and Weatherford showed strong support for a rails-to-trails conversion. With TPWD as the lead sponsor and the two cities willing to share the 20 percent match with TPWD, $1.6 million in Transportation Enhancements (TE) awards were provided in 1994 by the Texas Department of Transportation. In 1995, a portion of the TE awards were used to acquire the railroad right-of-way and preserve it for public use. The remaining funds were used for trail development, including redecking of 15 railroad bridges and construction of three of the four trailheads including parkings lots and restrooms.
The trail's right-of-way has a long history as an active rail corridor including the Weatherford, Mineral Wells and Northwest Railway, which carried more than 33,000 passengers, many of whom were on their way to the "healing water" and mineral baths in Mineral Wells - in 1899. Ownership of the right-of-way then passed to the Texas & Pacific Railway Company, Missouri Pacific Railroad and Union Pacific Railroad before being purchased in 1989 by the City of Mineral Wells for use as a freight hauler. The line was abandoned in October 1992.