Wise County's newest trail open for fitness

Stephen Igo • Oct 28, 2017 at 9:00 AM

APPALACHIA — At just 1.2 miles, Wise County's newest hiking and bicycling trail is hardly the longest by any stretch, but it certainly rates among the most scenic, and that's saying something in a region blessed by mountain scenery.

The Powell River Trail, with its trailhead in Appalachia, is the transformation of an old railroad bed complete with now trail-worthy trestles that links Appalachia with its sister town just down river, Big Stone Gap, caressing the foot of a mountain with terrific river views along the way.

As if the scenic vistas weren't enough, the Powell River Trail possesses another unique feature, the Bee Rock Tunnel, believed to be the third-shortest railroad tunnel at just 47 feet 7 inches, 1 foot and 7 inches longer than the Westmoreland Tunnel in Gallatin, Tenn., according to Wikipedia, with the Backbone Rock Tunnel near Crandall, Tenn., claiming the top spot as the shortest at just 20 feet.

The Bee Rock Tunnel was bored through a spine of exposed rock in 1891 by the Louisville and Nashville Railroad, a scenic feature to admire coming and going along the new trail.

During Friday's ribbon-cutting ceremonies, Lenowisco Planning District Commission Executive Director Duane A. Miller said the converted rail bed is now "an amazing thing we've got here ... and one of the most beautiful trails in Southwest Virginia, in my opinion."

Miller said the $1.437 million project — more than $1.25 million provided by the Virginia Department of Transportation and an in-kind match by the town of Appalachia of $187,441 — also represents a vision of a growing network of trails linking not just Appalachia and Big Stone Gap but eventually, hopefully the city of Norton as well.

"We are stronger together, and if all of us get together we can make it stronger for all in Wise County and our region," Miller said.

State Delegate Terry Kilgore, R-Gate City, said Friday was a "beautiful day for a beautiful project."

Jerry Stinson, district member of the state Transportation Board, called the Powell River Trail project "an excellent representation of what VDOT and the Transportation Board do to connect communities. There is no better example than this."

Appalachia Mayor Ted Collins quipped that "this thing started about 10 years ago as a bad dream" considering what it took to make the dream a reality, "but it turned wonderful. We stayed together on this thing, and it happened."

Besides parking, the trailhead, located immediately to the left upon entering Appalachia from Big Stone Gap on U.S. Route 58-Business, also sports a bright red caboose, so it's easy to find, and a classic 1929 train trestle over a waterfall comprises the gateway for a relaxed and scenic hike of just 2.8 miles (counting the return) or bike outing for families.

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