Monday, July 24, 2006

The Bipolar Trail - North Bend Rail Trail

North Bend Rail Trail

We drove from Wheeling, WV to the trail head outside of Clarksburg, WV, a two hour drive. The plan was to ride from Clarksburg to Parkersburg, stay overnight, and return the next day.

The first few miles of the North Bend Rail Trail started out promisingly. From the Wolf Summit eastern terminus the double track trail is comprised of gravel. The trail soon turned into a challenging combination of flooded sections, flooded tunnels, single track, and finally the joy of riding on trail sections completely overgrown by grass (with ruts thrown in to make it interesting). We even interrupted a few people mowing the section of the trail that ran through their back yard.

We also experienced mechanical issues, unrelated to the trail, but none the less frustrating. Several flats and the loosening of the rack attachment points on my Lemond resulted in the rack clanking for 3/4 of the ride were annoyances that we could have done without.

After 29 miles we reached the town of Greenwood (and Ritchie County). The trail finally became what is my definition of a rail trail. Between gravel doubletrack and road width gravel sections the trail condition was looking up. Even the tunnels were in better condition.

We stopped for lunch in Pennsboro. I believe that it was P & H Family Restaurant. Back on the trail it was easier going. Next stop was Cairo, WV. Nice little town. We stopped at the bike store/general store. From Cairo to Parkersburg it is 25 miles. So, we loaded up on water/drinks and set off. As we got closer to Parkersburg the trail parallels the river. The river was up from the rains during the prior week, a lot of debris and very muddy.

The trail ends abruptly at a cross road. There really is no indication that you reach the end of the trail, because it continues on for a ways but becomes impassable. We met some other bikers finishing up their ride and they graciously offered to ride us to our hotel, approximately 10 miles away. If you are planning this ride and are staying overnight expect to travel several miles to accommadations.

On Sunday we headed east on Rt 50, since the motel was right off of the highway, with the plan to head south on some country roads to meet up with the trail. We turned off of 50 after about ten miles. We ran into a climb of 17% which was a little of a chore fully loaded with racks and panniers. Once we reached the top, the road became rollers and had nice scenery. We reached the trail and headed east. Again we stopped in Pennsboro for lunch.

Since we knew the trail conditions we decided to ride as far as possible on the best part of the trail and then finish the ride on Rt 50. With 20 miles left we left the trail and rode Rt 50. It is a divided highway that does allow bicyclists. We did not run into many issues riding on Rt 50 except there are some climbs and no shelter from the sun.

If you are planning to ride the North Bend Rail Trail I would recommend riding a mountain or cross bike with at least 32 - 35mm wide tires. Take a decent light for the tunnels. I had an older Vistalite with AA batteries and it was not enough. The tunnels range from smooth road bed to large gravel. In Doddridge and Harrison counties the tunnels also had drainage/runoff from the rains earlier in the week. The lengths vary from a few hundred feet to over 2200 feet long. We walked through the majority of the tunnels and it definitely added to the ride time.

It is a shame that the state of West Virginia does not embrace ecotourism. The North Bend Rail Trail is a state park, but it seemed as though
Doddridge and Harrison counties did not care enough to maintain many sections of the trail. Ritchey and Wood counties seem to understand the importance of trail maintenance and it shows.

Please check out this Tour of North Bend Rail Trail from 2003. The trail condition looks pretty much the same except the bridges are completed.


Panek said...


Thank you for sharing your article. I have forwarded it to the State Trails Coordinator.

Please do not think that Harrison and Doddridge Counties do not care about the rail-trail. They (and we) do care and do realize the economic impacts of the rail-trail. The parts of the North Bend that were great, are near the North Bend State Park and park personnel are able to maintain it. The budgets of the other counties are stretched to the limits. You can shortly after some very hard rains - another reason we have difficulty maintaining the trail.

Harrison County has several rail-trails and everyone is working toward bringing the North Bend into Clarksburg. It is understood that this is vital. It is in the negotiating stage and final fundraising for this effort. Acquisition is the first step, then we have to build trail. It all takes dollars and volunteers. We are in need of both.

In this world of unfunded mandates and constantly changing ecological requirements being enacted, the cities and counties have been committing their limited resources to water and sewer infrastructure and doing what they can for the trails. This is not to say they are forgotten.

The City of Shinnston is proud of its landscaped trailhead for the West Fork River Rail-Trail. The City is upgrading water and sewer in the City, separating storm water sewers from sanitary (VERY costly unfunded mandate, but Shinnston is planning to file a grant application for 2007 to put bathrooms at the trailhead.

Although parts of the North Bend are very rough, at least they are there available to be improved eventually. If the State had not acquired the land and done what they could, we would have had nothing.

Please feel free to adopt a section of the North Bend to help us get it in the condition all would like it to be. Much of what is available in West Virginia has been accomplished by volunteers contributing time, money, and labor. Come join us in our efforts.

I am sending you a copy of our Rail-Trails of West Virginia. We have found funding for two 25,000 copy printings. We are almost out of them again and are seeking funding sources for another printing. We hope you will ride many more of our rail-trails in the future..

Kathleen A. Panek
Executive Director
West Virginia Rails to Trails Council


Anonymous said...

I have been part of and followed the WV trail development scenario for over a decade. Particularly the bottom line for North Bend Rail Trail is a lack of state commitment and interest in properly developing this first-class resource. The volunteer base has went about as far as it will ever go after more than 15 years. What has happened is that many of these folks became tired of the politics, incessant in-fighting and burueacratic road blocks. North Bend lost it's crucial benefactor and visionary leader in Dick Bias 10 years ago and it's sorely obvious.

Anonymous said...

There are nearly 200,000 residents directly on either end of the trail in Harrison and Wood Counties. The continuing poor access has went from a lacking need to and embarassment.