Tobacco Road

Tobacco Heritage Trail celebrates the history of Virginia’s most popular crop.

If you want to dig into the rich history of Virginia’s leading industry and revel in the beauty of tobacco farming, try hiking or cycling the Tobacco Heritage Trail that stretches along much of the Commonwealth’s southern border. This network of state roadways, bridges and abandoned rail beds will eventually connect Brunswick, Charlotte, Halifax, Lunenburg and Mecklenburg counties with more than 170 miles of transportation and recreation corridors.

“The rural setting really removes you from the big cities and gives you a peaceful feeling, running and hiking the trail,” says Brunswick County resident Cherie Nielsen, who in June came aboard as the Tobacco Heritage Trail coordinator, a part-time position funded by Virginia Tourism.

The first section of the non-motorized trail was opened in 2005 in Victoria as a five-mile strip linking to the Town & Railroad Park in the Central Business District. A 70-mile phase from Lawrenceville to Clarksville is currently being developed, and a three-mile stretch between the small towns of La Crosse and Brodnax is rather short but mostly paved.

The Lake Country Trails Advisory Committee, a Southside based civic group, in 2003 hatched the idea to create a system of off-road trails for biking. In the following year, the newly formed Roanoke River Rails-to-Trails Board coined the name Tobacco Heritage Trail to celebrate the area’s long agrarian history.

“A lot of people feel that tobacco has a negative connotation, so we wanted to change that and incorporate some of the important history of the state,” says Nielsen.

Tobacco ranks among Virginia’s 10 agricultural products, dating back to John Rolfe, who was among the first to successfully cultivate it as an export crop as early as 1612.

Hikers and cyclists will also get to experience some current tobacco farming along the new trail.

Says Nielsen, “There is a good possibility to see some crops and farms out there, and a ton of wildlife and natural beauty.”

Bright Leaf Legacy

Methods for curing tobacco may have modernized, but family recipes remain fiercely guarded. Click here to discover more about these secret methods, passed down for generations. And for the complete legacy of tobacco in Virginia, click here to read more about the industry’s past, present and future and here for a look at vintage tobacco tools and products from the Tobacco Farm Life Museum.

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