What’s a rail trail and how can the lore of a railroad-rich destination contribute to a cool walk/cycle/learn/relax getaway? Rail trails are conversions of disused railways to multi-use paths for walking, cycling and sometimes horseback riding. Rail trails are growing in popularity around the country, not only because of unique features, but because they can be enjoyed by families and people of all fitness levels. There are several in the Shenandoah Valley worth investigating, and combining the stories of a region’s railroad history with treks along the mostly flat, often shaded, scenic railways can be a fun way to explore. There are plenty of ways to do just that from a base camp in Waynesboro, Virginia.
Bone Up on Your Rail History
Start out with a visit to The Waynesboro Heritage Museum, where you will find permanent and rotating exhibit galleries covering all aspects of Waynesboro’s history, including its intimate connections to the railroad. Trains were critical to the cultural and economic development of the Shenandoah Valley, and the intersection of the Norfolk and Western Railroad (formerly the Shenandoah Valley Railroad) and the Chesapeake & Ohio Railroad in Waynesboro facilitated booming commerce and passenger travel during the 1800’s. Photos of the Basic City Railroad station from the Museum’s collection give the feel for what life along this bustling line was like.
Read more in this Waynesboro Historical Commission article “The Founding of Basic City, Virginia to its merger with Waynesboro, Virginia 1890-1923.”
Take in the Current Trails
A search of Waynesboro, VA reveals easily accessible trails less than an hour away.
The Virginia Blue Ridge Railway Trail is the classic rail-trail experience in central Virginia, and is just a short drive from Waynesboro. An easy walk/ride with multiple historical sites along the Piney and Tye rivers traversing five bridges and a covered bridge at Naked Creek, this seven-mile route will get you hooked on the rail trail experience.
The Chessie Nature Trail is a seven-mile stretch of disused rail line that follows the Maury River from Lexington to Buena Vista along mile markers left behind by the Chesapeake & Ohio Railroad. Proximity to the river and alternating open and forested habitats provides the opportunity to view varied wildlife.
Mark Your Calendar to Explore a New Rail Trail Under Construction–The Crozet Blue Ridge Tunnel
Originally constructed in the 1850s, this National Historic Civil Engineering Landmark will be professionally restored and carefully transformed into a unique recreational destination for all of Central Virginia. The project master plan calls for a trail through the Blue Ridge Tunnel, with two trailheads providing access from both sides of Afton Mountain, and (ultimately) connections from the Tunnel to adjacent recreational assets such as the Blue Ridge Parkway, Shenandoah National Park, the Appalachian Trail, and U.S. Bicycle Route 76. This regional project will also support various community objectives relating to historic preservation and interpretation; economic development, eco-tourism, and heritage tourism; and the continued establishment of attractive quality-of-life amenities for nearby communities.
Full funding for the Crozet Tunnel restoration was allocated in 2016. Keep track of progress at blueridgetunnel.org.
Relax After, Waynesboro Style
When you’re done learning and exploring the rails for the day, check into one of Waynesboro’s historic bed and breakfasts to rest up for another adventure. Starving? Roll into EBF Smokehouse for a hearty, southern-style meal.
From Memphis style ribs, to Carolina pork, to Texas Brisket, to Miss Virginia’s Chicken, plus sides like cucumbers and onions, five cheese mac and cheese, baked beans and hush puppies, have something to satisfy any craving.
Hunger satisfied, catch a wide-variety of top-notch entertainment at the Wayne Theatre, including nationally-touring musical acts, special film series and lectures, as well as great arts programming for the entire family.
Coming soon: Basic City Beer Co. located in the renovated Virginia Metalcrafters Factory in Waynesboro is the perfect match for a rails-to-trails trip. Founded in 1890, Metalcrafters was a Waynesboro mainstay for nearly a century. Basic City Beer Co. sibling owners Bart and Chris Lanman bring a family train legacy to the business, with their father spending his life working on the railroad. Because the railroad was so important in “Basic City,” and it’s common for breweries to locate in defunct industrial districts, the brothers found Waynesboro and the factory a perfect fit for a project like Basic City Beer Co. They are scheduled to open in late summer 2016 and are one of two brother-owned breweries on the Shenandoah Beerwerks Trail.
Extend your rails-to-trails stay with daytrips:
Chesapeake & Ohio Heritage Center, located in the important railroad town of Clifton Forge, is a railway heritage museum, interpretive, educational, and visitor’s center that tells the story of the C&O Railway, its people, the places it serviced and the technology that made it possible. The collection, which is curated by the Chesapeake & Ohio Historical Society, is one of the largest held in the United States pertaining to the technological development of a single railroad.
Jackson River Scenic Trail.This serene 10.7-mile rail-trail is nestled in the Allegheny Highlands of western Virginia and traces the route of what was once the Hot Springs Branch of the Chesapeake and Ohio Railway. It features waterfalls, rock formations and seasonal foliage.