After flood, 78-mile trail is open again

ABOVE: A State Parks employee walks atop a massive rock slide that blocked a portion of the Greenbrier River Trail near Anthony following severe flooding in June 2016. BELOW: The slide, 600 feet high and 300 feet long, dwarfs visitors getting a view of it at trail level.
The slide, 600 feet high and 300 feet long, dwarfs visitors getting a view of it at trail level.
West Virginia Commerce Department | Courtesy photos
With boulders removed and the hillside stabilized, the trail now rises about 18 feet above its original grade, giving users a panoramic look at the Greenbrier River.

One year after being severely damaged by flooding, all 78 miles of the Greenbrier River Trail have been reopened to bikers, hikers and horseback riders.

The last remaining flood-related obstacle, which has kept users off an 11-mile section of trail south of Anthony in Greenbrier County, was described as “the Godzilla of landslides” by Sam England, chief of the Parks and Recreation Section of the Division of Natural Resources. The slide buried the trail under a 600-foot-high, 300-foot-long pile of rocks, mud, trees and brush.

Since the trail is a state-owned property and the damage was caused by an act of nature, the landslide removal project qualified for a grant from the Federal Emergency Management Agency to cover 75 percent of repair costs. State park employees and a corps of volunteers — including a trail construction crew from Kansas State Parks — helped cover the state’s share of the recovery work. Pineville Paving and Excavating from Wyoming County and Sibold Excavating of Union in Monroe County were the contractors handling the heavier debris moving work.

In addition to causing the massive landslide, last June’s flooding damaged 30 other sites along the trail, including some of the 20 trailside campsites built along the route, and washouts involving sections of trail, bridges, culverts, vault toilets and signs.

“While remaining work consists mainly of ditch line repair, trail surface repair and a little bit of debris cleanup, the trail is once again passable,” England said. The most severe damage took place at the southern end of the trail, between its terminus in Caldwell and the just-cleared slide near Anthony. The trail north of the slide has remained open to its northern terminus at Cass.

In 1985, only five years after the Greenbrier River Trail became a part of the state parks system, floodwaters caused extensive damage, most of which was not repaired until six years after the event.

“Last year’s flooding affected less of the trail than the 1985 flood, but the parts that were affected were more severely and dramatically damaged,” said Leslee McCarty, president of the Greenbrier River Trail Association. “I’m glad to hear that the whole trail has reopened, and so are the people who operate businesses along its route. According to a study commissioned by the state, trail users contribute almost $4 million a year to the local economy.”

Since the trail opened in 1980, a number of inns, bed-and-breakfast establishments, outfitters and shuttle services have been created to serve trail users.

The trail, which only rarely ventures out of sight of the Greebrier River, follows the railbed of the former Greenbrier Branch of the Chesapeake and Ohio Railroad, which, after decades of declining freight business, made its final run through the valley in December of 1978. The trail passes through parts of Watoga and Cass Scenic Railroad state parks, Seneca and Calvin Price state forests, and the Monongahela National Forest.

“I’ve had guests who rode the whole trail in a day, and then turned around and did it all again the next day,” said McCarty, who formerly operated a trailside bed-and-breakfast in Pocahontas County. “Others just rode one section, or took a few days to ride the whole trail to enjoy the scenery and take some side trips. It all depends on how you’re wired.”

An 800-foot section of trail in the vicinity of the landslide has been contoured to create a grade that rises to a point about 18 feet above its former alignment and then gradually descends to the original trail grade.

“At the new trail elevation, the surprise is the wonderful view of the river and its surroundings,” England said. “We’ve had a lot of very nice comments about the outcome.”

Reach Rick Steelhammer at, 304-348-5169, or follow @rsteelhammer on Twitter.

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