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Hike new trails at Forks of Coal

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By Butch Cooper

bcooper@cnpapers.com

304-348-4806

The Forks of Coal State Natural Area, which opened in June 2016, can be found just off the Rocky Branch Road exit of Corridor G (U.S. 119), 11 miles south of Charleston.
BUTCH COOPER | Metro Kanawha State Forest Superintendent Kevin Dials, right, who helps oversee the Forks of Coal State Natural Area, talks with Kevin Browning, assistant, on the edge of a large rock formation on the Yellow Circle Trail.
The Yellow Circle Trail goes through an area that was once the site of the first Girl Scouts camp in Kanawha County.

In the year that the Forks of Coal State Natural Area has been open to hikers and nature lovers, a number of improvements have been made.

The 102-acre tract was donated by by Jack and Claudia Workman to the West Virginia Division of Natural Resources. It joins several other areas along the Coal River system that has been enhanced to promote outdoor recreation.

“The Coal River watershed and the area in general have undergone a transformation in the last decade or two,” said Kevin Dials, superintendent of Kanawha State Forest, who also oversees the Forks of Coal. “The Coal River Group has spearheaded a lot of efforts to clean up the actual rivers themselves, picking up trash and improving wastewater disposal. It’s really spearheaded a recreational resurgence. A lot of folks are fishing the Coal River, kayaking and canoeing. Big things are happening here. Our hope is just to tie in and augment any way we can.”

One of the appealing aspects of the Forks of Coal trails is that they are easy hikes, good for families and those who want to enjoy leisurely nature walks.

“These trails are not as strenous as, let’s say, those in Kanawha State Forest,” Dials said. “We don’t have nearly the steepness or elevation changes here that we do over there. A couple of spots, we had to put in some switchbacks to lessen the grade a little.”

Wildlife, such as deer and turkey, has been seen along the property, while ducks, coyotes, squirrels and chipmunks can also be spotted.

The closeness of the Forks of Coal State Natural Area to Charleston, just off Corridor G, makes it convenient for anyone looking to spend time outdoors in a woodland setting.

“Having something else this close to Charleston is a great advantage,” said Kevin Browning, KSF assistant superintendent. “You have a 10-minute ride out here, give or take. It’s a great opportunity.”

The three trails of the Forks of Coal are as follows:

YELLOW CIRCLE TRAIL

Found on the Big Coal River side of the system, the Yellow Circle Trail is the shortest of the Forks of Coal’s three trails, around a half-mile.

The big attraction at the Yellow Circle is Camp Round Rock, a rock formation where the first Girl Scouts camp in Kanawha County was located.

An old water pump from the camp can still be found on the trail.

Further along on the trail, there is a nice patch of wildflowers for enthusiasts to enjoy.

“They grow naturally over there. Very good diversity with different types of wildflowers and just sheer numbers,” Dials said.

ORANGE TRIANGLE TRAIL

On the Little Coal River side of the system is the Orange Triangle Trail. Just a little over a mile long, it runs from the floodplain bottom to a ridge overlooking Corridor G and the Little Coal.

Wildflower enthusiasts will be pleased with the daffodils found along this trail. The flowers were planted at an old house that used to be located here.

Six homesteads used to be found along the area, and one can clearly be seen while hiking the Orange Triangle.

“You get a little bit of history with the natural area we’ve got here,” Dials said.

There is also a large meadow that was created by highway fill when Corridor G was constructed.

“There is sort of a loop trail into that field so you can get out and observe some of the natural features,” Dials stated.

BLUE SQUARE TRAIL

The longest of the three trails is the Blue Square, a little more than a mile-and-a-half long.

Along this trail is a ridgetop with a nice view of the forks. When the leaves are off the trees, the town of Alum Creek is visible in the distance.

There is a switchback which will take hikers closer to the fork.

“You cover a lot of different habitats and different vantage points on these trails,” Dials said. “Some of them existed partially already. Mr. Workman and his wife would drive along them on a golf cart. We took the trails they had, added a little bit here and there, connected them and made loops out of them.

“Trail building was fairly easy here. A lot of work was already done for us. We kind of turned it into something more park-like.”

Future plans include the Claudia L. Workman Wildlife Education Center, which will be built with natural materials to help blend in with the landscape of the area.

“It will include exhibits and programs that are specific to wildlife that you would find in this area,” Dials said. “Hopefully, we’ll have some aquarium-type exhibits with some live fish that you would expect to find in the Coal River and some of the non-aquatic wildlife, as well.”

“It’s a part of bringing in additional tourism for our region,” added Bill Currey, the chairman of the Coal River Group, which is responsible for cleaning and maintaining the river system. “Having the Forks of Coal long-term development plan with the nature center they’re planning and the walking trails are huge opportunities to grow our tourism economies here, because it’s located off Corridor G, so easy to get to. It’s a beautiful, 100-acre piece of property.”

With the nature center, Dials hopes to bring in staff to help promote the FOC.

“We don’t have any permanent staff here yet. We’re kind of running back and forth from the Kanawha State Forest and doing what needs to be done here,” Dials said. “Eventually, we hope to have some full-time staff here. Maybe a full-time naturalist to man the nature center, to give presentations of what the nature center will have and maybe some guided hikes.”

Volunteers have played a pivotal role in the Forks of Coal, from building and cleaning to donations.

“Several Boy Scouts did their Eagle Scout projects and helped us construct a bridge prior to our opening,” Dials explained. “So, it has been developed some, enough to get folks out to enjoy what the area has to offer.”

Meanwhile, while there are no plans on connecting the trail system to the rivers themselves, a boat ramp can be found adjacent to the area underneath the Corridor G bridge on the Little Coal River side.

“The DNR does have plans in the works right now to improve that, to make a nicer concrete ramp so you can get in and out of there a little bit better,” Dials said. “It should serve that purpose well for the area.”

They also hope to promote the history of the Coal River system.

“The Coal Rivers have a rich history of industry,” Dials said. “Early on, the rivers had a lock-and-dam system on them with barge and railroad traffic bringing out coal and timber. Almost directly adjacent to the property here was a major sand-dredging operation. A lot of these things, historically, can be interpreted by what we’re doing here.”

Signs detailing some of this history were donated by the Coal River Group, and can be found at the parking area near the trailheads.


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