Library 101: Backyard Gems

Posted on: Thursday, October 31st, 2013 by Jody Hanshew

To continue a recent Fall-themed column on football, the librarians would like to highlight a few gems in Emory & Henry College’s backyard, and encourage you to appreciate the natural beauty of Southwest Virginia.  There are several park and recreation areas within 30 minutes of the E&H campus that offer many opportunities to relax and enjoy nature.

First is the Virginia Creeper Trail (www.vacreeper.org) that begins in Abingdon and extends 34 miles to the Virginia-North Carolina state line.  A local businessman and a lumber company established railroad and timber businesses on the slope of Whitetop Mountain, the second highest peak in Virginia in the early 1900s. Officially called the Abingdon Branch, the railroad was nicknamed the “Virginia Creeper,” after the common plant along the tracks, or alternately, named for the s-l-o-w speed of the train as it crept along toward North Carolina.  After years of varying profitability, the last owner of the railroad company, N&W, ran the final train in 1977, sold the abandoned route to the U.S. Forest Service and the towns of Abingdon and Damascus, and the Virginia Creeper Trail was born.  Now a multi-use trail for pedestrians, cyclists, and horseback riders, the VCT attracts visitors from across the U.S    The scenery ranges from small town Abingdon to farmland to deep forest in the eastern Forest Service section of the trail, and is beautiful year-round.  Parts of the trail follow the Middle and South Forks of the Holston River, Beaverdam Creek, and Whitetop Laurel Creek.  Spending a weekend afternoon cycling or walking the VCT is a great way to relax from the pressures of college.

The second backyard gem is Hungry Mother State Park (www.dcr.virginia.gov/state_parks/hun.shtml).   Established as a recreational park by Marion businessmen, it was first known as Lake Forest.  After a short life of only a few years, it became one of the six original parks of the Virginia State Park system.  Several hundred CCC corpsmen arrived to expand facilities, and by summer 1936, the park was open for visitors.  After some controversy over the name, it was officially called Hungry Mother State Park, named after the creek that runs into the 108-acre lake.  The legend behind the creek’s name came from the story of a hungry lost child crying for Molly Marley, her dead mother, collapsed on the bank of the stream.  For day use, the park has at least 15 miles of trails (open to cyclists, except Molly’s Vista), picnic facilities, fishing, and a beach (a rarity in Southwest Virginia!).  A nice hike is the Lake Loop, just under 6 miles, and a moderately easy walk.  A more challenging hike is the Molly’s Knob / Molly’s Vista trail to the highest point in the park (3300 feet).  Depending on the route, this hike can range from 5 to 7 miles.  The view from Molly’s Knob on a clear day is spectacular—you can see Mount Rogers (the highest peak in Virginia) and Big Walker Mountain.  The huckleberries that ripen there in late summer are pretty tasty too. 

With the great weather we’ve been having, Fall is a great time to take a study break and enjoy the bright foliage in these special places.  What is the connection with Kelly library, you might ask?   Well, the library has several books that will give you much more information about these wonderful rec facilities in our backyard:

Hungry Mother History & Legends by Mack Sturgill F 234 .M35

Marion & Hungry Mother State Park by Kenneth Heath F 234 .M35 H43

Mountain Biking Virginia by Scott Adams GV 1045.5 .V8 A38

Trails of Virginia: Hiking the Old Dominion by Allen de Hart GV 199.42 .V8 D4

Virginia Creeper Trail Companion by Ed Davis & Ed Morgan F 232 .W3 D28