By Hugh Rogers
Beginning in 1988, Allen de Hart co-authored four editions of the Monongahela National Forest Hiking Guide for the West Virginia Highlands Conservancy. His death last fall, at the age of 90 (see the Voice, December 2016), came as he was working on the 9th edition. We had already lost co-author Bruce Sundquist, who had begun his labor of love on the Hiking Guide way back in 1972.
To continue the project, we have Allen’s notes, his communications with National Forest staff, lists of trails newly opened, re-opened, or abandoned, and some information from hikers on changes to be made to old descriptions. There are more than 800 miles of trails. As Allen wrote, “The trail system … is dynamic.” We want the new edition to be as accurate as possible. You can help!
In January, during what we used to call “unseasonably mild weather,” I double-checked a couple of trails in Tucker County. Double-checked, I say, because we had scouting reports from early 2015 that found one had “major blockage,” and the other was “impassable.” I knew the Forest Service was very gradually clearing many trails that had been hit by a 2012 derecho and/or Superstorm Sandy, and I wanted to see if these two were now in better shape.
The following reports mix description with experience, as I hope readers of the Voice will do: Go out on any trail you know or are curious about, and compare what you find with the 8th edition of the Guide. Changes in the route? Missing information? Please send your reports to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Losh Trail (TR155)
The Losh (Run) Trail should draw hikers from both Horseshoe Recreation Area, with its large campground, and YMCA Camp Horseshoe. The trail begins on a nature trail (not shown on the Guide’s map) connecting the two. Look for the trail sign below the gate at the recreation area, before the first camp site. The nature trail has tree identification markers and a footbridge over Horseshoe Run. The junction has a sign for Losh Trail. (A distracting “false trail” is no longer evident.) The first section has some short reroutes around fallen trees.
The stream crossing at point G on the map can be difficult when the water is up, due to downed trees. On the west bank, the trail diverges from the apparent streamside route. Look uphill for paint blazes and arrows. After a climb, the trail heads south, until it curves around the point of a ridge, then makes an abrupt switchback. It heads north and steeply up.
Beyond a saddle, the trail curves around a knob to head east. This is the area our scout found virtually impassable. It is somewhat hard to follow for all the downed trees; but you can pick your way along the hillside, keeping blazes in sight—no jungle-gym climbing required. As you emerge into open woods, you’ll be greeted by a crowd of blue plastic blazes. The trail heads north again, at first below and eventually up on the ridgeline.
The “stately stand of white pine” has been reduced. Near the end of the trail, hikers have cut through a narrow screen of saplings to avoid a tangle of briers. There you enter a field, apparently maintained as a wildlife opening. There is a signpost, but no signs. Beyond the pines is another field. Dorman Trail (TR153) continues north from this point.
Clover Trail (TR124)
From Elkins, you can get to the trail without going to Parsons. On US 219, 1 mi N of the Montrose post office, turn left on Clover Run Road. At the stop sign .2 mi W, turn right; the paved Clover Run Road continues to the county line at the top of a ridge, where it becomes Valley Fork Road, CO 23. It’s 4.3 miles from US 219 to the junction with CO 21 at a stop sign. Turn right and go 1.5 mi. In a curve just past the bridge over Clover Run is a wide pull-off.
The trail isn’t signed. It begins across a stream, in a depression left by an old woods road that shortly narrows to an obvious trail. It gradually ascends to a fence line, the forest boundary, where it switches back toward the stream. The first blaze is uphill from the turn. The trail emerges from a series of switchbacks onto a long southerly course high above the stream. Before it widens on an old RR grade, there are places where its hold on the hillside is precarious.
The Guide mentions how logging trains would climb the ridge by driving forward and backward from switchback to switchback. The grades are stacked on a nearly vertical hillside. Near the final blaze on this grade, a track heads back north and up on the right. There is a hard–to-notice (I did not) blaze high above it. This is the spot where our scout reported “a major blockage.” It’s still there.
Instead of the newer route described in the Guide, I followed signs of old maintenance and current use on the original trail. The RR grade passed through two cuts as it bent SW around a point and headed NNW. At a small trib, it turned sharply S again. Another switchback at a larger trib turned SE. There was enough room to duck under fallen trees.
An intersection with an old woods road was blocked but the road was accessible by a well-used shortcut. The next stretch, heading SE again, had a bad patch, not too long, then another and a discouraging dip. The tangle of bent and fallen, mostly younger trees, blocked my view: would the trail resume its climb? Fortunately, (a) most of the downers were dead enough to break; (b) many of the bent could be pushed aside; and (c) the briers were few. A lot could be done here with a bow saw, and even without tools, every passage will open it more.
Another switchback, from E to NW, led to FR 937 at a former log landing. The old route did not use as much of this road. Just before the road turns NE and descends, on the right an obvious trail leads uphill to the junction with Pheasant Mt. Trail (TR120), which is not signed, but blazed in both directions.
So, Clover Trail is still usable, although its condition must be downgraded. We will re-check the blocked junction and the rest of the re-route described in the 8th edition. But my preference would be to upgrade the route I followed, using less of FR 937 and more of the scenic old RR grade.