By Dave Samuel
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — During this crazy time, I’ve tried to get out every day for a walk. You can only spend so much time in your house before you need to get outside. Even on rainy days (and we’ve had our fill of those of late), my dog Cali and I find a place to hike. Because they are handy to where I live, I’ve been walking at the West Virginia Botanic Garden, Cheat Lake Park and Coopers Rock. I know that many of you have also been out walking and that is one small benefit we’re getting from this virus. It’s given us time to get outside with your spouse, kids or other family members.
We have lots of nice places to get outside. In addition to the above, there is the Rail Trail system, several city parks and the University Arboretum. People chose where to walk or jog or bike ride based on several factors — proximity to home, safe and secure places to walk, terrain, is it dog friendly, can I take a baby stroller there, can I ride a bike there, are all things that people need to consider.
Now there is one more neat option for hikers and joggers. Toms Run Preserve is 319 acres and located about 10 minutes south of Morgantown, just off Interstate 79 at the Goshen Road exit. (More on location later in this column).
There is a bit of history here. In 1995, Elizabeth Zimmermann donated 84 acres of mostly mature forest to the West Virginia Land Trust and it was named Elizabeth’s Woods Nature Preserve. Twenty years later, the Land Trust bought two adjacent parcels, the 173-acre Dunlap-Shuttleworth Property from The Nature Conservancy and the 61-acre Morris Property from the Morris Estate. The Nature Conservancy was deeded the land in the will of Edward Dunlap in 2015 and the Morris Estate was on the open market. The neat thing about these two fortunate purchases was they were adjacent to Elizabeth’s Woods and to the Mon River Rail Trail. The Monongahela River is visible from the Dunlap tract, and although recently timbered, it was a great addition to what is now called Toms Run Preserve.
The whole area is now owned by the West Virginia Land Trust, a statewide nonprofit organization with offices in Morgantown and Charleston (wvlandtrust.org). The function of the preserve is to enhance local outdoor recreation and to provide an area for nature and environmental study. Many small streams and seeps are found in Toms Run, making water studies possible on the area. For the last five years, the Land Trust has been raising funds to build a parking lot and trails. The trails are an on-going process, but the parking area is completed and two main trails are now available and form a set of loops ranging from 0.7 to 1.0 mile in length.
Getting there is easy. Take I-79 South to the Goshen Road Exit, No. 146. Turn right at the end of the ramp, and go to the stop sign at the intersection with Smithtown Road below the Pilot gas station. Turn left, go 40 yards and then take the first paved road on the right, which is Little Falls Road. Proceed about 1/2 mile until you come to the entrance of Toms Run Preserve on the right. You’ll see the beautiful new entrance sign welcoming you. Turn in there and go to the newly constructed parking lot a few hundred feet up the hill. If you use Google Maps for GPS, this link will get you there: https://goo.gl/maps/ScCuxaVpsEghucyy8.
As mentioned, there are two trails and a map posted at the parking lot. Elizabeth’s Loop is an easy-to-walk trail about 0.7 of a mile long. Shortly after leaving the parking lot on Elizabeth’s Loop, you will come to Hollenhorst Trail. This half-mile loop goes up the hill and is fairly rigorous. It reconnects with Elizabeth’s Loop, making that hike about 1 1/2 miles.
Although there is dense multiflora rose underbrush around the parking lot, once on the trails, it is all open woods with mature timber. There is little or no understory in the mature forest, so bird watchers can expect to find the species you get in mature woods. I hiked the woods last Sunday, and here are my observations.
Elizabeth’s trail is pretty easy going. Kids of all ages will be able to do that trail, but baby strollers are out of the question. Dogs are fine, but you must carry a plastic doggie go bag and take that out with you when you leave. I let Cali run unleashed because no one was there. But carry a leash so that when you see someone, either with a dog or without, you can leash your dog. Visibility is really good along the trails because there is no understory, so seeing a person coming your way is no problem.
One more rule: No mountain bikes are allowed on this section of the preserve. The Land Trust is looking at options for developing mountain bike trails on another section of the Preserve in the future; that will depend on community interest and support. For more information and a map, see tomsrunpreserve.org.
The grand opening for Toms Run Preserve was supposed to be in April, but given the COVID-19 situation, that is now on hold. When that is scheduled, I’ll post it here. Meanwhile, the preserve is open for use. For the most part, the trails aren’t muddy, so tennis shoes will work most of the time, but decent hiking shoes are recommended. Yes, Toms Run is another little gem in Morgantown that is worth a visit, or two, or three. If you see a cute little cavapoo wearing a pink halter, with an elderly man in tow, please say hello. I’ll see you there.
Dr. Samuel is a retired wildlife professor from West Virginia University. His outdoor columns have appeared, and continue to appear, in Bowhunter magazine and the Whitetail Journal. If you have questions or comments on wildlife and conservation issues, email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.