High school student Rania Zuri has made it her mission to end book deserts in West Virginia. Book deserts are places without libraries and bookstores, threatening literacy rates for young children. A senior at Morgantown High School, Zuri founded the LiTEArary Society to provide books to preschool children across West Virginia.Continue Reading Take Me to More News
Mercer County leaders have repurposed 23 acres of woodland, once used for forestry research, into a recreational area. And its two miles of trails offer more than hiking. They also have a lot of history and learning opportunities.
The trailhead of the Gardner Center’s network of hiking trails is located less than a mile off of Interstate 77 at exit 14. The property was once used as a U.S. Forest Service’s Forestry Sciences Laboratory.
“The foresters just like to get out in the woods,” Mercer County Commissioner Bill Archer said. “Since it was a federal government entity, you know, they spared no expense as far as rock lining all the trails out through there that are open.”
While the trail in the forest had a good foundation, Archer said the county still had to work to prepare the site for the public. The county worked to clear debris, modernize some of the signs found along the trail identifying some of the trees and soften the rock lined paths.
“We had a lot of excess wood, and we leased a wood chipper and ground [the wood] into wood chips, and my late wife recommended that we put that on the trails,” Archer said. “If we had them we might as well use them to make a nice soft trail to walk, on and it’s very safe.”
The site also has a building, once used by the U.S. Forest Service; it’s the only building in the country dedicated to honor President John F. Kennedy before he was assassinated.
Jeff Palmer takes care of the trails.
“I think, probably around 1911,” Palmer explains standing by the Poor Farm Cemetery trail head, “the county acquired this property, and it became what was called the Mercer County Poor Farm. People who could not support themselves for one reason or another, they ended up here. And what happened was when people would pass away, they were buried in the cemetery up here, which is now called the Poor Farm Cemetery.”
Along the right side of the trail is a set of horseshoe pits. Once overgrown, they are now restored for additional recreational use. The pits around the old iron pegs were also made from excess wood while clearing the trails.
“Here in southern West Virginia, that seems like the route,” Palmer said. “Recreation is a big thing now, and so as many [recreational] opportunities that we can offer to anybody, we try to take advantage of that opportunity.”
There are also picnic tables, disc golf and even brief botanical lessons available to visitors.
Along the hike are rectangular signs strategically perched in front of trees and elements of the forest.
“This right here is one of my favorite trees, that’s the black gum,” Palmer said. “The way I can tell it’s black gum is by the bark. The chunks of gum protrude out so far.”
At one time, the forest was used to highlight the timber and types of woods that could be used for furniture after World War II. Hikers can find even more information by logging onto the website, even while they hike.
“A lot of history here and we’re working to preserve that history,” Palmer said. “When we have hikers coming up here, we encourage them to go onto our website and as they hike, they can just look at the history of this whole place.”
The interactive map and other details are available at their website.
The Mercer County Commission is working to connect another section of trails. Palmer expects the section will be open before spring 2023.