It’s been 26 years coming, or 39, or 113, depending on when you start counting. The much-loved Huckleberry Trail is beginning construction on its last leg Fall 2015, creating a connected trail system that will stretch more than 6 miles from the Jefferson National Forest on the northern edge of Blacksburg to the far side of Route 114 in Christiansburg via the newly-completed Renva Knowles Bridge.
The trail began its life in 1902 as a rail line transporting coal from the Merrimac Mine to the Cambria Depot in Christiansburg, and was extended into Blacksburg two years later to carry passengers, mostly VPI cadets, to and from the university. Named for the wild blueberries, or “huckleberries” that lined its route, the rail line was the main means of transportation in and out of Blacksburg for decades. When private car ownership became commonplace, ridership fell significantly; the number of daily runs was reduced from four per day in the 1930s, to two in the 1940s, and finally once a day in the 1950s. By 1958, it no longer made economic sense to offer passenger service on the line, and ultimately the Blacksburg depot itself was shuttered in 1966. That same year, a Virginia Tech horticulture professor, J.C. Garrett, led the charge to preserve and transform the abandoned rail line into a nature trail and walking path between the Blacksburg Library and Airport Road. From these humble beginnings, the Huckleberry Trail we know today began to take form. In 1989, the Town of Blacksburg and a group of committed citizens and bike advocates led by Bill Ellenbogen, entered into a partnership with Montgomery County and the Town of Christiansburg to form Friends of the Huckleberry, Inc. whose mission was to connect Downtown Christiansburg to the Jefferson National Forest with a continuous trail. Currently, the Huckleberry ends at Linwood Drive off of Prices Fork Road in Blacksburg.
The last bit of work will be to create a ¾ mile connection across Glade Road and Heritage Park to Gateway Park at the southern boundary of the Jefferson National Forest. Over the years, the Huckleberry has provided outdoor recreation opportunities to countless residents across the three jurisdictions, contributing to positive community health and citizens’ quality of life. In addition, the trail’s final portion has been planned with environmental conservation and education in mind. A 500 foot elevated boardwalk will be constructed over a wetland area both to minimize environmental impact and to provide local students, researchers and nature enthusiasts an opportunity to learn about and appreciate the ecosystem services and wildlife habitat provided by an intact wetland.
The bulk of the funding for the trail’s extension came from a $371,700 Virginia Department of Conservation & Recreation fund for recreational trail building. The Town of Blacksburg also utilized a portion of its water/sewer fund to extend municipal water along the trail extension route. For more information: http://huckleberrytrail.org/.