ABOVE: Hunter Faison shows a tree he removed while trail building at Pocahontas State Park
On a hot, humid August day in the depths of Pocahontas State Park, a group of young people with the Youth Conservation Corps helped build a new hiking trail.
“We’re doing something productive,” 16-year-old Daryl Brown said, smiling as he gazed at the fresh path winding through forest vegetation. “I didn’t want to be here at first, but it ended up being fun. The hard work is worth it.”
“When we get older and have our own kids, we can show them what we made to help the community,” 15-year-old Lexi Freeman said as she admired the extent of the group’s handiwork during the three-week summer Youth Conservation Corps program.
Completed sections of the new trail, which is unofficially known as the Swift Creek Trail, is located off the Forest Exploration Trail on the north shore of Swift Creek Lake. It is expected to open to the public as early as September.
At 8,000 acres, and with a flourishing trail system that includes endless miles of multi-use trails for cycling, hiking, and equestrian use, Pocahontas has specifically dedicated trails, park manager Josh Ellington said. “This new trail will be a hiking-only trail. It’s a single-track, narrow, weave-through-the-woods feel.”
Ellington said the new trail system is made possible in large part through corporate support. The Friends of Pocahontas State Park was awarded a $20,000 grant from REI Richmond and a $10,000 grant from Dominion Energy.
“We have great partnerships,” assistant park manager Bryce Wilk said.
Chester resident and avid trail runner Chris Meanor likes the idea of the new pedestrian-only path. “I think it’s excellent because a lot of people wear headphones when walking or running, and they don’t hear cyclists or horses coming behind them. Even if you don’t wear headphones, you still may not hear the cyclists who can come up behind you fast,” he said.
Meanor is also a mountain biker who uses Pocahontas trails for that purpose as well. “I think I spend more time here than home. I love this place,” he said. “Being out in the woods, it brings peace.”
Trail Dynamics is building most of the new hiking trail with groups like the Youth Conservation Corps assisting.
Much of the work happens after the trail is in place, according to Ellington, who said that maintaining the numerous miles of trails is an ongoing effort. Mountain bikers are especially enthusiastic about lending a hand. Retired people and hikers making up the bulk of volunteers.
“The best trails, you can’t tell anyone did it,” volunteer coordinator Andi Clinton said. “We like to say it was made by the trail fairies.”