Trail of the Month: August 2004
Mon River Rail Trail System, West Virginia
Located in the heart of West Virginia's mountaineer country on a former CSX railway, the Mon River Rail Trail System stretches 51 miles along the Monongahela River and Deckers Creek on the outskirts of Morgantown, the fifth largest city in West Virginia and the home of West Virginia University. Currently 46 miles of the Mon River Trail System are complete, consisting of the Deckers Creek Trail, the Mon River Trail North, the Mon River Trail South and the Caperton Trail. Providing eight miles of paved surface within Morgantown and 38 miles of crushed limestone, the Mon River Rail Trail System is easily accessible by wheelchair and is perfect for walking, jogging, bicycling and cross-country skiing. In addition, being directly adjacent to both the Monongahela River and Deckers Creek, the Mon River Rail Trail System offers great opportunities for birding, fishing, swimming, picnicking, canoeing and kayaking—ideal activities for a weekend family excursion.
Connecting the counties of Monongalia and Preston, the 19-mile Deckers Creek Trail is the longest trail in the Mon River System. The Deckers Creek Trail also has the steepest grade of the Mon River rail-trails with an incline of 1,000 feet between Hazel Ruby McQuain Riverfront Park in Morgantown and Reedsville. Upon leaving the city limits of Morgantown, trail users encounter the picturesque and secluded landscape for which West Virginia is well renown with hardwoods, hemlocks and rhododendrons surrounding the trail. Close to the towns of Masontown and Bretz, the trail passes the Bretz Coke Ovens, a national historical landmark and the last beehive coke ovens used in the United States. These abandoned ovens were built in 1903 by West Virginia industrialist Stephen B. Elkins and used in the coal mining industry to turn coal into coke, a form of impure carbon used for fuel and steel manufacturing.
With 14.7 miles in Monongalia County and the remaining three miles in Marion County, the Mon River Trail South is the second longest trail in the Mon River Rail Trail System. This wooded trail traces the Monongahela River from the Morgantown city limits to Prickett's Fort State Park, providing spectacular views of the river and local wildlife including beavers, muskrats, white-tail deer, foxes and ground hogs. Seasonal wildflowers such as Queen Anne's lace, woodland sunflower, purple-flowering raspberry and three types of milkweed bloom next to the trail from early spring to late autumn.
The Mon River Trail North and the Caperton Trail cover another 12 miles of the Mon River Rail Trail System. The Mon River Trail North travels six miles along the Monongahela River from the Edith Barill Riverfront Park in Star City to Van Voorhis Road, ending approximately four miles from the Pennsylvania border. The final segment of the Mon River Rail Trail System is the six-mile Caperton Trail, passing through Edith Barill Park, the West Virginia University Core Arboretum and the Hazel Ruby McQuain Riverfront Park. Unlike other trails in the Mon River system, the Caperton Trail is predominantly urban and serves as a means of transportation to local shopping districts and restaurants.
The Mon River Rail Trail System sprouted from a public/private partnership between the West Virginia State Rail Authority, a state agency charged with preserving West Virginia's rail infrastructure, and the Mon River Trails Conservancy (MRTC), a volunteer nonprofit organization founded in 1991 to facilitate the development of this rail-trail system. Except for eight miles of the Caperton Trail within the city limits of Morgantown and Star City managed by the Morgantown area Board of Park and Recreation Commissioners, MRTC is responsible for the development and management of the remaining 43 miles of trail. Along with general upkeep of the trails, MRTC also hosts many fundraising events throughout the year, including the annual Deckers Creek Trail Half-Marathon and Trail Mix. Trail Mix is an annual National Trails Day celebration held each June in which local residents gather to show their support for the Mon River Rail Trail System. With the help of these fundraising events along with more than $2 million in Transportation Enhancement funds, the Mon River Trails Conservancy has been able to preserve this rail corridor and convert it into a multi-use trail. Having recently completed the Mon River Trail South to Prickett's Fort, the Mon River Trails Conservancy hopes to use future funding to continue construction of the Mon River Trail North to the Pennsylvania state line.