From Tracks to Trails

Uncovering history on Virginia’s repurposed railways.

Peak Creek Trestle on New River Trail.

Photo by Joe Tennis

Hike the trail where salt was transported from Saltville to support Confederate forces during the Civil War. Bike along the path where munitions were moved to the Naval Proving Ground in Dahlgren during World War II. Author Joe Tennis tracks routes such as these—former railway beds converted into public-use trails—in Virginia Rail Trails: Crossing the Commonwealth, published in 2014.

Tennis began his research focusing solely on the New River Trail, which stretches 57 miles from Pulaski to Galax. The hiking and cycling path is located where a railroad built to carry lead once stood. In mapping it, Tennis found he was tracing history too, learning the stories behind the names of quirky towns and the people that populated them. “My interest in chasing these things down within the region became a statewide obsession,” he says. The result was this comprehensive guide. 

Tennis was introduced to the state’s rail trails in 1992 when he was reporting on the then-new Huckleberry Trail in Blacksburg for the Roanoke Times. At the time, it was one of only a handful of rail trails throughout the state; today, there are nearly 50.

Tennis is also the author of Along Virginia’s Route 58 and eight other books.

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