Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Ghost Towns of the Upper Potomac Rail Hike

It was early Fall when a local friend of mine named Kurtis Kelly, had the extraordinary insight of hiking along active but rarely used rail tracks along the N. Branch of the Potomac River. This inspiration came to him from a rare book titled Ghost Towns of the Upper Potomac by the Garrett Co. Historical Socieity. Rare, because it's printing was very limited and it can only be found in tourism information areas in Garrett Co.
So we decided to begin our first hike out of the
19th century town of Gormania, WV or Gorman, MD -- the two named towns separated only by the Potomac River. We began our journey by parking our car behind the Gormania Gas and Go along the river. We then crossed the Potomac River bridge onto the Maryland side where the rail tracks are located. We began hiking down stream in search of Ghost towns and abandoned villages forgotten about over the decades.

The reason that Ghost Towns could even exist along these rails, is that once these rails carried passengers, but no more -- the rails owned by CSX now just carry freight about once per day and no longer have passenger stops. So many towns and villages sprung up along these rail tracks around 1900 through the 1920's. The economies were predominantly virgin forest timbering and mining. Once the virgin forest in the region were depleted, these roadless villages, only accessible by train, died and were abandoned. Some structures, and even a whole small village in the middle of nowhere, still exist today from that hayday. We were in search of them.

So we set out on an extraordinary 8 mile rail hike along the N. Branch of the Potomac River, from Gormania to the Schell Road swim hole. What we found was truly extraoridinay. We found rugged white water, cascades, waterfalls, deep swim holes and tributaries of this pristine high mountain river as only those who once inhabited the past hamlets and abandoned towns once observed, very long ago -- we deemed this stretch of the N. Branch Potomac The Forgotten River.

Words can only describe the pristine white water river that we encountered along the rail hike that was almost always in view of our hike. Photos, shown in a gallery at :http://www.abramscreek.com/galleries/gormania-rail-hike/index.html

are far better than words. However, we would frequently hear rushing waters along our hike and we would venture down to the river to find watefalls, flumes, giant cascades, and troughs where the whole river went into a narrow canyon only a few feet wide. We encounted giant boulders and deep crystal clear swim holes. We marked so many points on our mobile GPS device to come back to and camp overnight sometime (because of the shear beauty of these spots) that it was almost pointless to mark them, as the beauty never ended.

Along the way, we found a wild blueberry bush and ate. We found a wild grape vine so full of ripe grapes that we spent about 10 minutes eating surprisingly sweet grapes as we continued to pull them from the heavily laden vine. While we didn't encounter any significant ghost towns along this stretch of the hike, we did occasionally come across an abandoned structure or two. But not disappointed, as the beauty of the rugged Potomac was all that we needed. It was honestly one of the best hikes and scenery that I have ever encounted in 5 years in the Potomac Highlands -- bar none. And nobody else does it or even thinks about it. I am inviting you to come and experience it for yourself.

Ghost Towns of the Upper Potomac (book written/published by the Garrett County Historical Society):

This book focuses on a very small area along the Potomac River that divides Garrett County, MD and Grant and Mineral Counties, WV, a total of about 30 miles or so. Within that distance the book (a joint effort published by the Garrett County Historical Society) lists and describes about 30 coal towns, most of which are ghosts or barely still in existence. A few places such as Kitzmiller and Bayard are still very much alive and even support post offices yet. The most interesting feature of the book is the inclusion of a large number of photographs and postcards of most of the towns - some of them taken shortly after one or another of the numerous floods that occur along this mountainous stretch of Potomac River. These coal towns seem gritty and fragile places, though stubborn in their existence: many of them could only be entered or left via the railroad. The book is an interesting look at once thriving places of not too long ago that may or may not have seen better days.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Living a Socially Conscious Dream on a Campground in WV

Mt.Storm, WV--- I left my engineering career after 11 years, with it's many financial perks and certain security, to seek a more peaceful life in the mountains. I was 38 years old and a long time resident of Northern Virginia when I bought an undeveloped 20 acre forested area and adjoining stone home near Mt. Storm, WV in 2004. For the past five years, I have worked diligently on my dream, now manifested in full reality as Abram’s Creek Lodge and Family Campground. The eco-friendly camp is an active vacation spot and retreat with 40 forested campsites, a sweat lodge, a geodesic dome, two authentic tipi’s, 10 cabins, and a 6 bedroom guest house. I created the only eco-friendly campground in the regoin, to my knowledge, just a short 3 hours drive from Washington, DC and devoid of the usual asphault and concrete RV padsites that turn most campgrounds into trailer parks.

Having traveled all over the world, I can honestly say that I am very happy to settle into such a peaceful environment consumed with mosses, lichens, ferns, hemlock trees, rhododendruns and mountain laurel trees. The extraordinary bio-diversity of this small piece of Potomac Highlands river valley is now in my care. I have spent my whole life preparing to be the steward of such a place. As few trees as possible have been cut down to make each campsite accessible to it's guests. While cars are allowed by each camp site, the graveled parking pads have been created to make as little impact as possible. LED spotlights are used as needed as there is no light source more eco-friendly. Further back into the campgrounds are many trails where there is little evidence of human intervention and mother nature rules supreme, as she was meant to. While it would have been easier to have plowed everything flat and pave it over, as many campgrounds have done, I would have never have bought this beautiful piece of property if that had been my intent.

This is a river valley where the Indians once roamed -- Some refer to the regional group as the Appalachian Tribe. West Virginia was home and hunting territory to Shawnee, Cherokee, Delaware, Seneca, Wyandot, Ottawa, Tuscarora, Susquehannock, Huron, Sioux, Mingo, Iroquois, and other tribes.

Mother Nature gave a great gift along Abram’s Creek here, and to despoil it for the sake of making it accessible to the masses would have been tragic – as people need to experience nature in it’s most awesome form, with comforts, but in it’s full glory. I can take you on a walk around the campground and river valley and show you that many changes that have been made to the place over the past five years, while still preserving much of wild beauty. This is the essence of eco-friendly and mindful camping and campground stewardship.

One of the most striking features of the campground is the sound of Abrams Creek heard just about in every location on the site. There’s a calmness to the sound of the rushing water, especially for one used to the jangling noises of city traffic. Many people specifically arrive early on the weekends to get their favorite camp sites by the stream, just so that they can be lulled to sleep by the sounds of the flowing water. When you look at the sparkling beauty of Abram’s Creek as it roars over the boulders, only seven or eight miles from its source, you know that at least the headlands of this small branch into the Potomac River will be protected as long as I have my way. For more information and available photos, please go to http://www.abramscreek.com/

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Artistic Stone Stairway added to Lodge House property

This past week, stones of all shapes and sizes were gathered from Abram's Creek and the surrounding property to build a stone staircase along the side of the Abram's Creek Lodge House. Expert Landscaper and Gardener Kate Wolfe, built the stairs as part of a labor exchange program where she lived and ate for free at the Lodge House in exchange for a couple of hours of labor per day. She began this ambitious and overdue project on a Monday, with the help of our Caretaker and resident Sweat Lodge Facilitator, Cesar Plaza (aka Lightning Wolf). Kate and Cesar jointly gathered stones from the property and creek using our Farm Vehicle Ford F150 to haul the sometimes massive stones.
Stone by stone, as if assembling a jig-saw puzzle, Kate laid the stones in place while maintaining a curved pathway up the hill. By Thursday evening, the project was complete, just in time for a weekend wedding being hosted on the Lodge House property. Solar lighting was added, flowers, annuals, and perennials planted and a few pieces of forest tree root were carefully placed for the final look shown in the photos above. A truly masterful work of art on Kate's part and we thank this very ambitious labor exchange friend of Abram's Creek Campground.
More photos of both the stone staircase and the Lodge House can be viewed at: