by Katie Wolpert
The US Forest Service was hoping to quietly “retire” the Gatewood Trail years ago and for a long time things were going according to plan. They stopped doing any maintenance on the 3-mile loop trail that is not directly connected to the other, more popular, trails in the Seneca Creek Backcountry. You’d have had a hard time finding a trailhead. Enter Dan Lehmann and the West Virginia Mountain Trail Runners.
Ten years ago, the West Virginia trail running club was hoping to improve and expand upon a little race event that we had been holding for a few years up at the Spruce Knob Mountain Center: Run For The Hills (RFTH) Half Marathon. Club leaders Lehmann and Adam Casseday created 50K and 50 Mile races in the Seneca Creek Backcountry and added them to the days preceeding our Half Marathon and in the process created the WV Trilogy, an amazing three-day ultra running, community-building, something-for-everyone event that has been growing every year.
The Gatewood Trail, just off the edge of our campus, was a vital trail corridor that they needed to connect all three races to the rest of the forest and it was quickly disappearing into the wild growth of beech and spruce woods! So back in 2008 the WVMTR club gathered volunteers and organized work parties to bring the Gatewood Trail back from the dead.
Since then the only maintenance the Gatewood has seen has been irregular use and a bit of minor branch clipping or stick removal before race weekend each year. Last month during the first Adult Running Camp though, Lehmann led a group of campers through a warm drenching rain with chainsaws, clippers, nippers, handsaws, and a few snacks. The group gave the loop a major facelift. They placed/replaced trail blazes and removed major snags, trees fallen over and around the trail, encroaching beech groves, pungy sticks, and briars from the Gatewood Loop.
At Experience Learning, we use this trail to access an important stream study area with school groups. The photo above shows our staff training to conduct stream studies along Gatewood. Many hundreds of runners from all over the world have traversed the trail over the last decade. It passes through many diverse ecosystems, from the stream corridor, to a grazing allotment, an old red pine plantation, and beech and hemlock forests. Well maintained trails that preserve off-road access corridors are more than a frivolous nicety for relaxing vacationers. They are an important part of keeping our forests relevant, healthy, and an integral part of the economy and outdoor industry.
Now this beautiful, flowy, kid-friendly trail is open and passable to the world. Every circuit made helps keep the corridor open for the next explorer.