Friday, October 26, 2012

Fall Foliage Adventures

This is the time of the year for a walk in the woods and this article recommends an alternative outing to the Appalachian Trail: the Great Eastern Trail (GET).  This 1,800-mile trail has as its northern terminus the Finger Lakes in upstate New York and, when completed, will terminate in the south in Alabama.  The GET trail is a volunteer, cooperative effort by local hiking groups to connect existing foot paths in the Appalachian and Allegheny Mountains.

The GET allows the hiker to access many local and national trails.  In the Finger Lakes region, the GET route intersects with the 4,600-mile North Country National Scenic Trail that winds around the Great Lakes and ends in North Dakota.  At the Great Allegheny Passage, the GET intersects the 830-mile Potomac Heritage National Scenic Trail, which in the west begins in the Laurel Highlands of Pennsylvania and ends in the Tidewater Northern Neck of Virginia; the well known C and O Canal path is part of this Trail. 

For more than 380 miles the GET braids its way along ridges of the Virginia, West Virginia, and Kentucky borders.  Volunteer groups, using the AT as a model, are cooperating to expand, maintain, and promote the Trail.  The cooperating organizations include the Potomac Appalachian Trail Club, the American Hiking Society, and the West Virginia Scenic Trails Association.  A GET Association organized in 2007 in Virginia.  The Board Chairman is Tom Johnson, who also advised us on local access to the Trail.
In Rockingham County the most convenient place to access the GET is by way of Route 33 to the top of Shenandoah Mountain.  From the parking lot one can hike north or south.   To complete either hike in a day, shuttling is recommended.  Across Route 33 the dirt path to the north goes on Hall’s Spring Road to Hall’s Springs - about 10 miles distance. The hike is not very strenuous.  (See: MRL August 2012 Blog.  Cartographer Jed Hotchkiss took this route in 1859. He described the views as magnificent.)  At Halls Springs a car park is at the forest gate.  

To hike south, the Trail is off the east end of the parking lot on Route 33.  A short distance along this path is the path to High Knob Tower.  Tom Johnson describes the detour as “more than worth the short side trip to the top.” Going back to the GET, one can continue seven miles to Bother Knob where there is also parking available for shuttling.  This is a strenuous hike and is not recommended for casual walkers.  For location of other trails in the area, acquiring the National Geographic Trails Illustrated Map 792 is recommended.

For those who are looking for a fall weekend in Virginia but with more distant hikes that includes other activities, two GET access sites at Narrows/Pearisburg and Paint Bank are suggested.  Both are found about 120 miles south of Harrisonburg west of Route 81. To get to Narrows from Route 81 drive west at Christiansburg through Blacksburg on route 460 to Narrows in Giles County near the West Virginia state line.  This small town named for the narrowing of the New River has a population of about 2000 with craft shops, a historical museum, and places to stay and eat.

Paint Bank north of Narrows is reached by leaving Route 81 at Salem on Route 311.  On your way to Paint Bank the hiker can visit Hanging Rock, which is a prominent rock outcrop (and Civil War site) with a fire tower that provides spectacular views.  This hiking is described as “rough.”  Once in Paint Bank, the General Store will provide the visitor with a “little bit of everything” including dining.

In the trail area between Paint Bank and Narrows are many side trails.  To follow the GET, the Trail south from Paint Bank is along the ridge line of Peters Mountain. You will eventually get to the New River at Pearisburg.  The hike is generally level with some ups and downs.  Some of the trail co-exists with the AT that is reached 21 miles south from Paint Bank.  This section to the New River Bridge at Pearisburg is about 17 miles.  The full distance would require a 2-3 day overnight/backpack excursion.

The preceding is only a small sampling of excursions available along the GET that would allow one to enjoy the beauty of the fall season and to do “some moving” before the winter curtails outdoors activity.  Before getting a move-on, make sure you have proper shoes and the supplies appropriate for your goal.  For Trail information visit the Great Eastern Trail website at and Google your Virginia destinations.  Purchase foldable maps like the National Geographic Trails Illustrated Map available through the Society’s website.  If you are so delighted by your adventure, contact the local hiking society to volunteer.

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