Saturday, July 5, 2014

New River Gorge National River: Burnwood Trail (Blog Hike #475)

Trail: Burnwood Trail
Hike Location: New River Gorge National River, Burnwood Day Use Area
Geographic Location: north of Fayetteville, WV
Length: 1.2 miles
Difficulty: 2/10 (Easy)
Last Hiked: June 2014
Overview: A short lollipop loop with nice beech and hemlock trees.

Directions to the trailhead: From Fayetteville, take US 19 north.  Immediately after crossing the New River Gorge Bridge, where the entrance to the Canyon Rim Visitor Center goes right, turn left to enter the Burnwood Day Use Area.  Park in the large gravel parking area; the trail starts behind the restroom building.

The hike: Most of the millions of people who come to New River Gorge each year cross over US 19’s famous New River Gorge Bridge.  Completed in 1977, the bridge is the longest steel span in the western hemisphere.  The rusty color of the supporting steel is exactly that: rust.  Coating the outside of the steel with rust protects the inside of the steel from the elements while eliminating the need to paint the bridge.  Paint would perform the same task but at higher cost and risk to workers.
            The New River Gorge National River’s Canyon Rim Visitor Center on the north side of the bridge offers fantastic overlooks of both the bridge and the gorge.  The Visitor Center is also the northern terminus of Fayette Station Road, the old switchbacking road through the gorge that served as the main route until 1977.  Some videos and exhibits round out the Visitor Center’s offerings.
Across US 19 from the Visitor Center lies a lesser used facility, the Burnwood Day Use Area.  The reason this area gets so little use becomes apparent when you drive into the trailhead.  The area contains only a large gravel parking lot, a restroom building, a picnic shelter, and the short Burnwood Trail described here.  This trail, formerly known as the Laing Loop Trail, does not lead to any gorge overlooks.  The trail’s main attractions are some nice beech and hemlock trees and a nature study area for kids.
Trailhead: Burnwood Trail
Start at the signed trailhead behind the restroom building.  The trail immediately enters the woods and descends gradually to head around a shallow ravine.  At 0.2 miles, the trail curves right and climbs slightly.  An old rusty metal fence marks a property boundary from the land’s pre-park days.
Old rusty metal fence
The trail assumes a grassy track up the left side of an old field.  Trees are just starting to infiltrate the field area, so the natural process of forest succession has just begun.  That process will continue for many more years until the field is completely reforested.
At 0.3 miles, you reach a trail intersection with a sunny grassy trail going right and a shady forest trail going left.  Though no markings indicate such, you need to turn left here to stay on the Burnwood Trail.  If you turn right like I did the first time, you will hike 0.2 miles through the old field to reach a small cemetery near US 19.
Hiking along the reverting field
100 feet into the woods, the trail forks to form its 0.6 mile loop.  For no particular reason, I chose to turn right and hike the loop counterclockwise.  The trail descends slightly into a shallow ravine to reach a children’s nature study area.  Unfortunately, nobody was staffing this area on my visit.
Hiking through the forest
The trail next climbs slightly to reach some of the nicest forest on this hike.  The sizes of the largest hemlock and beech trees that live here indicate that this land has not been logged for some time.  At 0.7 miles, the trail comes within sight of the gorge through the trees on the right.  This would be a nice place to build an overlook, but one of reasons this trail stays away from the rim is so that kids can hike here with no risk of falling into the gorge.  Thus, you will need to get your gorge views at the Visitor Center across the road.  At 0.9 miles, you close the loop, and 0.3 miles of retracing your steps remain to return to the parking area and complete the hike.

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