NORTON — The Spearhead Trails organization is branching into all sorts of trail experiences and new outdoor tourism/recreation ventures.
Executive Director Shawn Lindsey gave city council an update June 18 on projects of local interest. Also, council’s meeting packet included more than a dozen pages of updates on Spearhead projects throughout its seven-county, one-city coverage area.
In his remarks to council, Lindsey touched on such topics as these:
• Street legal. Spearhead is developing jeep and dual sport bike routes for street legal vehicles. These would include paved and unpaved roads that will not damage vehicles and provide a “Sunday drive” type of experience.
The idea started with High Knob planning meetings that included City Manager Fred Ramey, Lindsey said. There are about 240 miles of unpaved roads on the Scott County side, he noted. Six routes were identified, two of which would connect to the city.
• Horse trails. Work on a trail in the Dungannon area is underway, with discussions of how to connect to High Knob. One option is to connect several existing horse trails on the mountain, Lindsey said. There is also discussion of how to connect to the Big Cherry watershed area through Maple Gap.
• National forest. Spearhead has been performing a lot of maintenance work for the national forest locally, Lindsey said. That includes reopening the Cave Spring recreation area in Lee County.
• Trail Blazers. Lindsey said the Trail Blazers support organization has not been rising to its potential, and the Spearhead Trails board asked him to “resurrect” it. One idea is to hire a Trail Blazers program and event planner who would work with the Cloudsplitter race, fishing events, trail events and others, along with organizing volunteers for these and projects such as trail maintenance, litter cleanup and education efforts.
• Shooting. Spearhead Trails is working on several ideas around establishing target shooting facilities, he said.
The council packet included Lindsey’s detailed report dated May 28. It noted that the Spearhead board had asked him to send out quarterly project reports covering all localities.
Details of local interest include:
• Equestrian trails. It noted that the planned Clinch River trail has received a Virginia Tobacco Commission grant, but the organization is having a tough time obtaining easements.
An eastern route to High Knob has been identified, along with a southern route from the Scott County Horse Park to Dungannon. However, one snag in the latter plan involves a property ownership dispute on the most important easement, across the Rikemo Lodge property.
Lindsey reported that people in Dungannon “do not have faith that the horse trail will create a better market for their economy,” but this might change with some successes “if we can get a marketable product completed.”
• Devil’s Bathtub. Last year, the group helped clean up the trail and installed reflective blazes to help hikers navigate. Spearhead Trails helped with maintenance as part of its contract with the U.S. Forest Service. The group is currently designing a project to improve the road; water issues and traffic had deteriorated it.
• Mountain View trail. This is the largest of the Spearhead Trails systems with a total of 118 miles. Of that, 5,365 acres is owned mostly by Forestland Group. The system connects St. Paul to Coeburn, and work is in progress on expansion to Dante. The group has planned a route to Wise, but that could take a long time while more immediate priorities are addressed. Spearhead has recruited a running and mountain bike event for this summer, in which about 50 participants will run the Dan Hall Mountain section and a mountain bike route on the Guest River Gorge trail.
“During the past month we have contracted out maintenance on this trail and the contractor is finished with the worst area being on Trail 1 that stays wet and unstable due to a coal seam parallel to the trail and water running between it and the trail,” Lindsey wrote. “Additional maintenance will probably be needed on other parts this year.”
He further noted that he met with Forestland Group and the Nature Conservancy to discuss planned improvements over the next two years “to improve environmental quality of this trail. I believe we were funded at $233,000 and we should have access to those funds by November 2019.”
• Buchanan animal sanctuary trail. Spearhead was asked to help build a 7-foot-wide walking trail on a crushed stone base at the former Buchanan property in Wise. The trail was completed in December and the group was reimbursed by Wise County. Spearhead was asked to come back and “fix a few minor issues” before the grand opening on May 18, Lindsey noted. “We did so and it took about a half day.”
• Pound trail, pump track. The town asked Spearhead Trails to create a trail and pump track on an old playground adjacent to the Pound River, he wrote. Spearhead will use the same Appalachian Regional Commission grant for the Powell River to build the facility in Pound. Also, Spearhead will acquire a second parking lot and a kayak launch upstream.
• Pound hiking, equestrian trail. This is being sought by the Pound economic development authority and by Debbi Hale, a Spearhead Trail Blazers member. One goal is to connect Pound to the Pine Mountain Trail. Spearhead has done some mapping. Issues include the fact that one property needs to be purchased, possibly for less than $10,000, and the fact that the preferred connection through the Red Fox Trail to Pine Mountain is not approved for horse riding.
• Rock climbing. Spearhead unsuccessfully sought a federal grant to install a parking lot and kiosk at the “Labyrinth” climbing site at High Knob, and pursued funds for a similar project at the Ben’s Branch climbing site in Appalachia. Efforts will continue.
• Roaring Branch/Powell River. Appalachia and Big Stone Gap want help connecting the Keokee/Cave Spring trail to the towns along Roaring Branch. This would require a “very expensive” bridge connecting the Big Stone Gap greenbelt to the trail across the highway, Lindsey wrote.
• Guest River Gorge trail expansion. There is some interest, he wrote, in “seeing it to fruition. We have not made any progress” because Forestland Group does not want the trail to go through its property. However, Lindsey noted, Frank Kilgore had an easement before Forestland Group bought the property.