Rails to Trails in Southwest Virginia
Saltville Tourism Director Charlie Totten stands next to the town's rails-to-trails project.
Saltville, Va.’s director of tourism, Charlie Bill Totten, stands outside the Mahanaim Church, near Clinchburg, Va., proclaiming a vision: “I can see people traveling,” he says. “Not by vehicles, but by bicycles, walking.”
Today, while traveling the Salt Trail, you can explore the marshy Well Fields, a park where brine was once extracted with pumps then boiled to extract salt. Next, traveling a few miles south, you can step off at Clinchburg, where many original homes remain from a lumbering town that sawed out during the Great Depression in 1932.
Spanning about nine miles, the newly developed Salt Trail connects the farms of Glade Spring, near Emory & Henry College, with the downtown corridor of Saltville, the legendary “Salt Capitol of the Confederacy,” where industrialists have targeted salt as a resource since the late 1700s. This gravel path, about a dozen miles north of Abingdon, Va., mainly follows the abandoned Salt Branch of the 1856 Virginia and Tennessee Railroad.
Since this rails-to-trails project opened in late 2008, hundreds have come to explore it, says Totten, and many travelers have been fans of the nearby Virginia Creeper Trail, a rail-trail that runs 34 miles between Abingdon and Whitetop Mountain.
Near Saltville’s downtown square, the trail passes the modest homes of Saltville’s “Smoky Row,” named because smoke would hover above houses as steam trains chugged uphill. The trek also slips past the Salt Park, where outdoor exhibits include cast-iron salt kettles, a salt-well pump used to extract brine and a working reconstruction of a 19th-century salt furnace.
Most of the trail is suited especially for bicycles or walkers. About two miles, near Plasterco, utilizes a secondary state highway. 276-496-5342, www.saltville.org