In a county that is 89% forest (which includes 51% national forest and 6% state park), you better believe there are some great hiking trails. The variety of trails around Bath County is surely one of the reasons why the readers of Blue Ridge Outdoors Magazine chose Hot Springs, VA, as a Top Adventure Town.
While everyone loves a peaceful walk in the woods, not everyone realizes how much time and hard work is required to keep trails in good shape. Erosion does its dastardly work, thickets grow and expand, and trees fall and completely block trails. Thankfully, Bath County community leaders, along with the Bath County Chamber of Commerce and the Economic Development Association, recognize the importance of trails to the quality of life for residents, as well as their appeal to visitors. Recently, these organizations worked together to support local volunteers and even brought in a six-person team from the Appalachian Conservation Corps (ACC) to do some “heavy lifting.”
The result is many hours of labor and miles of improved trails. During their two weeks in Bath County, the ACC crew focused on trails in the TM Gathright Wildlife Management Area just north of Lake Moomaw and on a public use trail on The Omni Homestead’s property in Hot Springs. The crew extended The Homestead’s South Trail by 1050 feet.
Five trails at the Gathright Wildlife Management Area were improved. Most of them provide a pleasant out-and-back hike that follow mountain streams and creeks. One trail, however, is a bit more challenging and offers a unique experience. The High Top Fire Trail is a three-mile hike that gains approximately 1,200 feet of elevation as is ascends to the top of Allegheny Mountain and the state line with West Virginia. If you tackle the “Walk to West Virginia,” allow ample time and bring plenty of water. It’s a challenging six mile round trip, but you will have bragging rights of having completed a two-state hike. The best news of all is that when you return, you’ll be back in Bath County for great food and beverages.
The intensive, two-week stint by the ACC crew was a huge success that improved or created miles of trails, but there is a year-round need for trail maintenance. A small, but dedicated group of volunteers put in countless hours without fanfare. To them, it’s a labor of love – a way to serve to community. Some will modestly say they do it for selfish reasons – because they like to hike the trails themselves.
One such volunteer is Tom Richardson. He also serves on the Bath County Economic Development Authority, which was instrumental in bringing the six-person ACC work crew to the county. On any given day, you might find him — and others — with brush clippers and other equipment along a trail anywhere in the county, making sure it’s passable and safe. Richardson and Tom Gates do extensive work in the Hidden Valley Recreation Area. Over on the east side of Warm Springs Mountain down toward Clifton Forge, a second crew led by Michael Scales, Seth Ellis and others, work actively on creating cool mountain bike trails. “The national forest and wildlife management areas in Bath County are tremendous natural treasures,” says Richardson. “We have to do our part to be good stewards.”
For more information on the TM Gathright Wildlife Management Area, click here.
For more information on hiking and other outdoor recreation in Bath County, visit DiscoverBath.com