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New rails to trails book

Southwest Virginia's waterfalls and old railroad corridors take center stage in a newly-released book by local author Joe Tennis.

Sites like the Guest River Gorge and the Bull Creek Trail in Buchanan County are featured as part of 45 chapters in Tennis's new "Virginia Rail Trails: Crossing the Commonwealth" (The History Press, $19.99).

On Tuesday, Jan. 13, 7 p.m., Tennis is speaking on “Virginia Rail Trails” at the Appalachian Arts Center, just off U.S. Highway 19, near Claypool Hill and the campus of Southwest Virginia Community College.

With this new, 272-page book, the Bristol-area author tours abandoned railroads that have now been turned into parks and places to ride bikes, take a hike or ride a horse.

The author also includes a color photograph of the mysterious Devil's Bathtub, along with color photos of the Lower Falls of Little Stony and Little Stony National Recreation Trail footbridge - all of which are in Scott County.

Across Virginia, Tennis spotlights trails that have been built on lines that once carried coal, salt, lumber and people.

Four trails in Virginia span 31 miles or more - including the Virginia Creeper Trail; High Bridge Trail State Park; New River Trail State Park; and the Washington & Old Dominion Railroad Regional Park.

Many have fascinating stories, said the author. "The Virginia Creeper took off at Abingdon and went to North Carolina. It also had all of these attached arms, going down to Shady Valley, Mountain City, Konnarock and over to Whitetop."

Conductors would toss off candy to children on Saturday mornings, Tennis said. “Other times, the train would slow down to give fishermen a ride.”

Today, the Virginia Creeper Trail attracts more than 150,000 visitors a year.

Other trails include the Huckleberry that runs between Blacksburg and Christiansburg plus the Salt Trail, linking Glade Spring to Saltville.

Illustrations in the book include Civil War-era photos at High Bridge and Warrenton; vintage railroad postcards; and original color photos of waterfalls at Pound, Coeburn, Chestnut Creek and Damascus.

“These old railroads pass through beautiful areas,” Tennis said. “Many have great places to fish. And this book shares not only the trail directions and road directions but a lot of the hard-to-find history about why these railroads were built in the first place.”

For more, visit or call Appalachian Arts Center at 276-596-9188.

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