By JOE BARATY
Let’s begin today’s “Entry into the Wild” with a couple words regarding trail building; “hard work.” I learned this lesson quite a few years ago when I tackled a trail cutting project through a rough sloping wooded area along Smith Mountain Lake with my old pal Neil Sigmon. Yes, cutting trails I found was indeed hard work, but I have also learned over the years building other trails, that it doesn’t need to be frustrating work. And if it is, there’s a pretty good chance that you don’t know what you’re doing.
Trail cutting always begins with a simple premise or mind-set. If that mind-set is that “I am building something where it wasn’t meant to be,” then you are going to become frustrated and will likely create a disaster. The proper mind-set begins with the understanding that nature welcomes the visitor. She desires your company … as long as you don’t wreck her home when you visit. A good trail-cutter is part naturalist and part artist. You want to be creative and design a thing of beauty, but you also must appreciate your host, Mother Nature, and work within the parameters that she establishes for you.
Maybe one week we will look at trail building in greater detail, but for now, let’s get to our topic of the day — Grassy Hill Natural Preserve. I mentioned trail building at the outset to give you a glimpse of how I rate the trails that I visit. Do they scar the land in an attempt to get you efficiently from point A to point B? Or do they subtly meander through the natural environment showing off its beauty and respecting its integrity?
My old buddy John Hollandsworth and I used to trek through these woods when it was just an old fire road with a simple path extension off it. So when I first got word that they were planning a system of trails across the Grassy Hill Range, I had some trepidation and was afraid someone might butcher a beautiful tract of land. I was so pleased, however, that the results were nothing of the sort. Instead there was a wonderful meandering system of natural trails. I won’t take the time here to run you through the history and natural history of the preserve, but it is quite fascinating. You can find all this information at www.dcr.virginia.gov.
We are so lucky to have a trail of this kind within the Town of Rocky Mount. Most urban trails are very limited in scope, and are generally less than 2 miles in total length. To have a natural system of trails over 6 miles in length is a rare treat so close to an urban environment. It is also a treat that these are looped trails by design, where many urban trails are simple out-and-back layouts.
Our trail is expertly divided into three distinct sections, allowing visitors to tailor their hike for either time or physical needs. If you desire a rather quick 2.75-mile hike, you can simply combine the Slope Trail and the East Loop Trail. If you crave a longer day-hike, just add the West Loop Trail and you have it. The trails are naturally rocky and heavily rooted, but there are few testing elevation changes making it ideal for the entire family and even your leashed dog.
If you haven’t yet visited this gem, you are truly missing out. Whether you are the fitness buff needing an aerobic diversion, the naturalist desiring to suck in the natural history and beauty of our region, or the family looking for something new and special to do with your gang, Grassy Hill Natural Preserve has it all for you. Go ... get WILD!