Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Chessie Nature Trail (Blog Hike #348)

Trail: Chessie Nature Trail
Hike Location: Virginia Military Institute Foundation
Geographic Location: east of Lexington, VA (37.74926, -79.37473)
Length: varies
Difficulty: 1/10 (Easy)
Last Hiked: May 2011
Overview: A flat out-and-back hike along the Maury River.
Trail Information: http://www.vmi.edu/about/visit/chessie-trail/
Hike Route Map: https://www.mappedometer.com/?maproute=723615
Photo Highlight:

Directions to the trailhead: The Chessie Nature Trail is a linear trail built on abandoned railroad lines.  This hike begins at the eastern trailhead, which is located just west of Buena Vista.  Take US 60 to CR 607.  Go north on CR 607 0.2 miles to the trailhead.  There is limited parking at the trailhead, so you may need to park at a boat access at the intersection of US 60 and CR 607 and walk along the county road to reach the trailhead.

The hike: The Maury River has been an established route of transportation into the Shenandoah Valley for centuries.  Development began in the early 1800’s when a series of locks and dams allowed packet boats to transport agricultural and iron goods from Lexington to the James River and points downstream.  As with most canals, the Maury River canal quickly gave way to the railroad, and the Chesapeake and Ohio Railroad built a spur line up the Maury River from their main line in Glasgow to Lexington.
            In 1969, the remnants of Hurricane Camille wiped out the spur railroad.  The railroad decided to rebuild only the section between Glasgow and Buena Vista, leaving the section from Buena Vista to Lexington abandoned.  The abandoned section was later transferred to the Virginia Military Institute Foundation for development as a walking trail, and the Chessie Nature Trail was born.
Today people use the Chessie Nature Trail to travel from Buena Vista to Lexington the same way people did before canals and railroads: by foot.  The trail follows the Maury River for 7 miles and makes for a very pleasant hike with much solitude for most of the year.  Unlike some other Virginia rail-trails, this trail does not have an asphalt surface and is not open to bikes or horses.  The entire trail is a bit long for a dayhike unless you have a car shuttle, so I suggest you just start out and turn around whenever you feel compelled to do so.  The eastern-most 2.2 miles is described in detail here.
Eastern end of Chessie Nature Trail
              Begin by walking through the turnstile beside the vehicle gate where the trail intersects CR 607.  The Chessie Nature Trail passes through several parcels of land, and each boundary is defined by a gate such as this one.  Some of the turnstiles are a bit tight for people my size.  A large brown sign announces that you have begun the trail.
As you would expect on an old railroad grade, the wide trail maintains a rather constant elevation with gentle, sweeping curves.  The forest is young maple-beech forest with a grassy understory.  Sheer rock walls created by pick and dynamite occasionally come right up to the trail on the right.  Wildlife viewing opportunities abound.  On my hike, I saw many butterflies and several Canadian geese including a family with 6 goslings.  The geese were interesting to observe: several lookout geese started honking as I approached.  Their honking caused the mother goose and her goslings to head for the river away from me and the trail.
The Maury River
At 0.3 miles, you pass through another turnstile, and your first sweeping view of the Maury River emerges across the pasture ahead and to your left.  For the next 0.4 miles you will literally be walking among cows through a cow pasture, so watch where you step.  On remote sections of the Appalachian Trail or on trails in the western states, hiking through cow pastures is rather common, but it is somewhat unusual for a dayhike in central Virginia.  None of the 50 or so cows bothered me even though I walked within a few yards of them.
After walking around another gate, you exit the cow pasture and return to the forest.  Relics from this trail’s railroad days including stone mile-markers and wooden bridges can be seen along the trail.  A zip line leads across the river and away from the trail.  Since most of this trail passes beside private land, hikers should respect trespassing laws and remain on the trail.
Old railroad mile-marker
            2 miles into the hike, you pass through another turnstile and enter another cow pasture.  There are not as many cows in this pasture.  On the warm day that I hiked this trail, the prospect of another sunny segment across a cow pasture did not appeal to me, so I turned around here.  Remember that the trail does not loop, so at some point you will have to turn around and retrace your steps back to the eastern trail terminus to complete the hike.

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