Category Archives: Abingdon Blog

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Is This the Most Scenic Section of the Appalachian Trail?

Southwest Virginia has become a tourist destination for many reasons—scenic mountains, heritage music, farm-to-table restaurants, and Appalachian culture, just to name a few. But many people are passing through on a much larger journey: Hiking the Appalachian Trail. Thousands of hikers each year set out on the 2,200-mile long trail that connects Springer Mountain in Georgia with Mount Katahdin in Maine.

Of course, not everyone is taking the full trek across the country. The Appalachian Trail is filled with scenic sections that make for excellent day and weekend hikes, attracting people from across the country. For long-distance hikers, hitting Southwest Virginia is a mixed blessing: It is indeed considered one of the most scenic sections of the trail, following both ridges with sensational views and tree-covered wilderness. You’ll find the wild horses of Grayson Highlands and Damascus, Virginia, known as the "friendliest town on the trail."

But with those highlights come the unavoidable fact that you’re in for a lot of climbing. The trail crosses the state line from Tennessee into Virginia at an altitude of 3,302 feet, and from there it’s up and down along the 167 miles of trail that go through the region. You’ll hit the highest point of Virginia, Mount Rogers—technically just off the trail, but not by much—at an altitude of more than 5,700 feet, along with many several other high points along the route.

Of course, these climbs are also part of the fun, especially for day hikers who aren’t covering the full 550 miles of the trail that go through Virginia. For those looking for for the best of Appalachian Trail experience in the state, here are some must-hit sections in Southwest Virginia.

Damascus

Damascus is one of the most popular trail towns on the AT. It also features several other regional trails that are good for day hiking, including the Virginia Creeper Trail.

Damascus is one of the most popular trail towns on the AT. It also features several other regional trails that are good for day hiking, including the Virginia Creeper Trail.

Perry Smyre

Those doing the full AT hike look for hiker-friendly towns along the route, and Damascus as become known as one of the best. Travelers on the AT will find restaurants, laundry facilities, a post office, pharmacy, outfitters, plus several hostels and B&Bs where they can take a break. For day hikers, Damascus is also the epicenter of several opportunities for exploring the region, as seven major trails pass through the town. In addition to the AT, you can access the Virginia Creeper Trail, the Trans-America National Bicycle Trail, the Iron Mountain Trail, the Daniel Boone Heritage Trail, the Crooked Mountain Music Heritage Trail, and Virginia’s Birding and Wildlife Trail. You’ll also find loads of recreational opportunities in the adjacent to the Mount Rogers National Recreation Area.

After crossing the Virginia/Tennessee state line, the Appalachian Trail reaches downtown Damascus in only about three and a half miles. Here, you have a wide variety of options, whether you plan on sticking to the trail or incorporating some of the other trails as well. Some routes that can be done in a day include:

Loop Hike on the Appalachian and Iron Mountain Trails : From Damascus, start on East 4th Street and the trailhead to the Iron Mountain Trail, which is blazed with yellow markings. After about two miles, you’ll find a short, blue-blazed connecter trail, which will connect you to the Appalachian Trail (with white blazes). The return trip over a ridge features excellent views of the city. You’ll also enjoy some easy stream crossings and some manageable climbing.

Loop Hike on the Appalachian and Virginia Creeper Trail : Once again, start in Damascus for this 8-mile, easy-to-moderate hike. Start heading east on the Appalachian Trail/Virginia Creeper Trail. Follow the signs for the Appalachian Trail when they separate after you cross Route 58/91. Here you’ll enjoy the ridged view for about four miles, before you’ll cross a small log bridge and turn right on the Beech Grove Trail, where you’ll descend over about a quarter mile to the Straight Branch Virginia Creeper Trail parking lot. From there, you can hop on the Virginia Creeper Trail and head back into town.

Damascus is also home to the annual Appalachian Trails Days festival each May, which brings nearly 20,000 outdoor enthusiasts to the town each year to take advantage of workshops, outdoor outfitters, food, and entertainment.

Mount Rogers

The trail to Mount Rogers offers some of the most stunning views in the region.

The trail to Mount Rogers offers some of the most stunning views in the region.

Ryan Somma

You can reach Virginia’s highest point with a very scenic but challenging nine mile, out-and-back hike, mostly on the Appalachian Trail, which starts at Grayson Highlands State Park. While it’s great to reach the summit, one of the draws of this hike is viewing the wild ponies that live in the area. They help keep these bald mountains bald—that is, without significant tree cover—by eating the grasses and underbrush, which also is helpful in preventing wildfires. It also means that you get excellent panoramic views as you ascend the trail.

Start at Massie Gap in the state park, where you’ll pass through a horse gate and begin going up on the wide, gravel path. It isn’t long before you’ll reach the Appalachian Trail, which heads south and takes you most of the way to Mount Rogers. The wide open terrain is much different from the rest of the Appalachian Trail in the region, with little tree cover, rocky terrain and exposure to the elements. The final spur to the summit leaves the Appalachian Trail, where you enter a fairly thick evergreen forest. There’s a marker on the top of the mountain, but no view to speak of. This is truly a case of the journey being better than the destination.

Chestnut Ridge and Burke’s Garden

For those looking for a hike even more off-the-beaten path, Burke’s Garden is one of the more interesting geographic formations in the state features a section of the Appalachian Trail that doesn’t get a lot of day hikers. Located near Tazewell, Virginia, Burke’s Garden is a low valley surrounded 360-degrees by mountains. From above, it looks as if massive being pushed a finger down and created the valley, which has lead to the area’s nickname as "God’s Thumbprint." The lush valley is a throwback to another time, occupied mostly be family farms. The Appalachian Trail wraps around the ridges, and while it is mostly tree covered, you do get a few gaps that allow for some spectacular views.

For those not on a thru-hike, however, this section of the trail isn’t widely promoted. You won’t find signs for the trail in Burke’s Garden, which is made up almost entirely of private farmland. The easiest way to access the trail is through an entry point at Walkers Gap, which is located in Burke’s Garden. From there, take the trail (mostly uphill, with some significant climbs) for a bit over a mile to get to Chestnut Ridge and the stone shelter at the top. The trees open up and you’ll find excellent views of the valley below. Continue on the trail along the ridge to extend the hike. Chances are, the only hikers you’ll meet will be those doing either the full trail or at least a multi-day trek through the state.

Of course, these are just some of the options. Nearly any section of the trail offers something for day hikers to enjoy. And it won’t take long to figure out why so many thru-hikers view Virginia as the most scenic section of this 2,200-mile trail.

Originally written by RootsRated for Southwest Virginia.

Featured image provided by Cody Myers Photography

Abingdon’s urban trout stream: the restoration of Wolf Creek

Urban trout fishing? The idea is surprising, but that’s exactly what Abingdon offers, thanks to a multi-year restoration of Wolf Creek, a spring-fed creek that runs through the historic Abingdon Muster Grounds.

Now that the restoration is complete, the stream will be stocked with trout, and visitors can cast a line while they take in the beauty and historic significance of the Muster Grounds. (Catch and release only, find more information on Virginia fishing licenses here.)

The Abingdon Muster Grounds are a 9-acre historical park located within the town limits of Abingdon, just 5 minutes from downtown.

Abingdon Muster Grounds aerial view Jesse Burke

Aerial view of the Abingdon Muster Grounds, photo by Jesse Burke

The restoration focused on the stretch of Wolf Creek which runs through the Abingdon Muster Grounds, a site which is owned by the Town of Abingdon and is certified by the National Park Service as the northern terminus of the Overmountain Victory National Historic Trail.  This restoration project helped stabilize the stream bank, improve the hydrology, create habitat and re-introduce native species of plants and trees.  Now that the restoration is done, this section of Wolf Creek is a prime location to support the “Trout in the Classroom” program.

Rainbow trout

Biologists are experimenting with stocking native brook trout as well as brown trout and rainbow trout. Photo by Lisac Mark, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

During the Revolutionary War, 400 Virginians set out to join patriot militia from modern-day Tennessee, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia.  After a two week campaign, the Overmountain Men fought the Battle of Kings Mountain with overwhelming success, helping turn the tide of the war. As they gathered, or “mustered,” they would have camped on the banks of Wolf Creek. The new restoration, in addition to providing habitat for trout, helps recreate the look of the creek as the Overmountain Men would have known it.

Every year, reenactors celebrate the Revolutionary War Battle of Kings Mountain, 1780 with living demonstrations at the Abingdon Muster Grounds.

Every year, reenactors celebrate the Revolutionary War Battle of Kings Mountain, 1780 with living demonstrations at the Abingdon Muster Grounds.

A ribbon cutting will be held September 23, 2017 at 10:00 a.m., celebrating the completion of the Wolf Creek Stream Bank Restoration.  Many partners came together to restore the Wolf Creek stream bank, including: Town of Abingdon Virginia, Mountain Empire Chapter-Trout Unlimited, Virginia Department Game and Inland Fisheries, Virginia Department of Forestry, Upper Tennessee Roundtable, National Park Service-Overmountain Victory National Historic Trail, Carter Land and Water and the Virginia Chapter-Overmountain Victory Trail Association.

For more information,  call Leigh Ann Hunter at (276) 525-1050 or email lhunter@abingdon-va.gov

Creeper Trail Pumpkins JR S flickr account

Top 10 Reasons to Visit Southwest Virginia in the Fall

Southwest Virginia’s natural beauty and abundance of outdoor activities make it a prime destination for anyone seeking a break from the stresses of daily life. Fall is one of the best time to visit, with the autumn colors on full display. Here are 10 of the most scenic places to take advantage of the incredible outdoor opportunities and enjoy the show.

1. Visit Grayson Highlands State Park

Fall is an excellent time for hiking at Grayson Highlands.
Fall is an excellent time for hiking at Grayson Highlands.

Virginia State Parks

Well known for its wild ponies, alpine meadows, and high peaks, Grayson Highlands is Virginia’s crown jewel. Although a very popular destination for backpackers seeking breathtaking views, Grayson is also one of Virginia’s best bouldering destinations. In addition, Grayson Highlands provides access to Virginia’s highest peaks through the Mount Rogers Recreational Area. Whether you want to horseback ride, hike, camp, backpack, or climb, Grayson highlands is one of the most incredible destinations in Virginia.

2. Bike the Virginia Creeper Trail

Pumpkin patch along the Virginia Creeper Trail, one of the area’s best options for cyclists.
Pumpkin patch along the Virginia Creeper Trail, one of the area’s best options for cyclists.

JR P

This former railroad bed goes through the Appalachian Trail town of Damascus creating one of the best bike trails in the country. Numerous outfitters with rental and shuttle services make riding the Creeper trail a breeze. Along the trail you will enjoy peaceful creek crossings on rustic bridges with nearly unlimited spots to pull over and capture stunning photographs. For the best experience this fall, shuttle up to Whitetop Station and ride to the town of Damascus—you’ll find the entire trip is downhill. While visiting the Creeper Trail be sure and stop by the Wolf Hills Brewing Company in Abingdon and enjoy local music and craft beer.

3. Ride ATVs on the Mountain View Trail System

The Mountain View Trail System in St. Paul, Virginia, is well known to off-road enthusiasts hosting roughly 100 miles of pristine trails. St. Paul is an ATV-friendly town, allowing off-road vehicles legal road access to local shopping, lodging, and dining. After a long day riding the trails, there is no better place to refuel and relax than the Sugar Hill Brewing Company where local eats and craft brews are sure to fulfill you after a long day of heart pounding action.

4. Experience Breaks Interstate Park

Breaks Interstate Park is situated on the border of Kentucky and Virginia along the western-most continuous ridge of the Appalachians. Recognized as the deepest gorge east of the Mississippi, the park and surrounding areas are an incredible place to visit for all types of adventure including mountain biking, hiking, horseback riding, birding, rafting, and more recently rock climbing. Its incredible beauty offers a perfect island of wilderness to escape to. Be sure when you visit Breaks this fall to arrange a tour to see Virginia’s newly restored Elk herd located just 25 minutes outside the park on a local nature preserve.

5. Hike the Channels

The Channels feature one of the state’s most unusual hikes.
The Channels feature one of the state’s most unusual hikes.

Cody Myers Photography

Recognized as the eastern form of the famous Utah slot canyons, the Channels are one of Virginia’s most biologically diverse and fascinating areas. The 6.6-mile, moderate out-and-back trail offer a one of a kind way to experience one of Virginia’s most unique features. Located 15 miles north of Abingdon, Virginia, the Channels State Forest doesn’t offer camping, but you can spend a day exploring the trails and head back to Abingdon to spend the night.

6. Conquer the Back of the Dragon

This winding route—known for its zigzagging turns and unparalleled vistas—attracts sports-car drivers and motorcyclists from all over the country. The route stretches 32 miles from Marion to Tazewell, Virginia, with more than 300 curves and three mountain crossings along the way. Once you reach Tazewell, be sure to stop for lunch at Seven, a local eatery serving American-style food with a great community atmosphere before hitting the road.

7. Raft the Russell Fork

During the fall season, whitewater enthusiasts flock to the Russell Fork to experience some of the most intense whitewater on the east coast. In the month of October, water is released from a nearby dam making the experience even more exciting. October also happens to be the most beautiful time to raft the Russell fork, showcasing Virginia’s brilliant fall colors and cooling temperatures. During the October releases, the Russell Fork should only be run by experienced paddlers or with the accompaniment of a professional guide.

8. Backpack the Pine Mountain Scenic Trail

See the wild ponies on the Pine Mountain trail.
See the wild ponies on the Pine Mountain trail.

Virginia State Parks

For those audacious backpackers looking for a more remote adventure this fall, the Pine Mountain Scenic Trail is a must do. Backpackers can conquer more than 40 miles of wilderness with incredible views the entire way. In order to complete this trek, you will need to set up a shuttle between Breaks Interstate Park and US 119. Eventually, this section of trail will traverse the entire 150-mile stretch of Pine Mountain and someday be a part of the Great Eastern Trail, an initiative to create a more remote sister to the Appalachian Trail.

9. Float the Clinch River

Although known as Virginia’s forgotten river, the Clinch River will give you memories that last a lifetime. The Clinch, the most bio-diverse river in North America, offers a multitude of opportunity for exploration, snorkeling, fishing, and relaxation. Floating the Clinch gives visitors a taste of the beauty of Southwest Virginia and all of its incredible natural resources. Kayak, canoe, and tube rentals—plus shuttle service—are available at Clinch River Adventures, located in the town of St. Paul.

10. Explore Norton, Virginia

Known recently as one of Virginia’s top adventure towns, Norton provides easy access to unlimited outdoor activities in surrounding areas such as hiking, climbing, mountain biking, camping, and various water sports. In addition to Norton putting itself at the top of the list for many rock climbers, the flag rock area trails (FRAT) are becoming a top-class mountain bike destination.

Originally written by RootsRated for Southwest Virginia.

Featured image provided by JR P

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10 Must-Do Adventures in Southwest Virginia

Southwest Virginia was once dominated by the coal industry. Mining in the region peaked in the late 1990s, but has been on the decline since. The slow disappearance of the once-dominant industry has given way to something that people might not expect: outdoor tourism. The natural beauty was always there, of course, it just wasn’t the focus while coal was the backbone of the economy. If you head to the far left corner of Virginia today, you’ll find a huge number of natural adventures awaiting you. Here are 10 of the best ways to see this incredibly scenic corner of the state.

1. Hike on the AT

Some of the most scenic sections of the Appalachian Trail are found in Southwest Virginia.

Some of the most scenic sections of the Appalachian Trail are found in Southwest Virginia.

Perry Smyre

The best place to start a top ten list is with an activity that is both famous and area-specific—hiking on the Appalachian Trail. Of course the whole thing is a whopper that stretches for 2,190 miles from Georgia to Maine, but a significant slice of it passes right through Southwest Virginia. The AT runs right into Mount Rogers National Recreation Area, which is one of very few places on the trail that has a free public shower readily available to hikers (a rare, rare luxury when you’re on a long hike). The park also has a shuttle that costs 50 cents to go between the visitor center and Marion, Virginia, so it’s an accessible place to start or stop a shorter stint on the trail. If you want to be adventurous, pick it up where it enters the region in Cherokee National Forest across the border in Tennessee and trek it all the way to the West Virginia border in Giles County near Pearisburg. It’s a challenging and unforgettable way to experience the region.

2. Climb Mount Rogers

Mount Rogers is Virginia’s highest peak, so naturally it has to be on your bucket list. Taking off from Grayson Highlands State Park (you can park at Massie Gap), the peak can be reached through a nine-mile stint on none other than the AT itself. The big bonus is that there are wild ponies that fill the park so there’s a chance that your hike could bring you up-close and personal with these adorable and majestic little creatures.

3. Bike the Virginia Creeper Trail

The mostly tree-covered Virginia Creeper Trail follows the path of a former railroad, and offers some of the best cycling in the state.

The mostly tree-covered Virginia Creeper Trail follows the path of a former railroad, and offers some of the best cycling in the state.

Perry Smyre

While the Virginia Creeper Trail, a 34-mile beauty densely surrounded by trees, is a multi-use trail, you’ll mostly find it occupied by mountain bikers. The beauty of the trail is that it’s approachable in a variety of ways. You can take a shuttle to the start at Whitetop Station and make your way to Damascus to get an easy, downhill experience pretty much the entire way. The trail levels off a bit from Damascus to its endpoint in Abingdon, but it’s still a relatively leisurely ride. Make it a round-trip and challenge yourself by riding to the top on the way out and relaxing on the way back. The path is well kept, with incredible water views as the path crosses back and forth across Whitetop Laurel Creek. You’ll find plenty of options for bike rentals throughout the region, most of whom also provide shuttle service to the trailhead.

4. Paddle the Clinch River

St. Paul, Virginia, is the homebase for paddling on the Clinch River. Clinch River Adventures is right there to take you on guided, group floats and kayak trips that range from 45 minutes to seven hours. Tubing, on the other hand, lasts for two hours and is perfect for families—three year olds and up are welcome. The Clinch River is also home to one of the best overnight paddling spots in the state.

5. Rock Climb at the Grand Canyon of the South

Otherwise known as Breaks Interstate Park, or "The Breaks" for short, this spot constitutes the largest gorge east of the Mississippi River. Because the spot only officially opened to rock climbers in May 2016, there aren’t too many established routes, which just means there are plenty to be discovered. Expect Sandstone cliffs like what you’d find at Obed.

6. Ride the Back of the Dragon

The route known as the Back of the Dragon has become a top destination for motorcyclists, but any motorists will enjoy the amazing views.

The route known as the Back of the Dragon has become a top destination for motorcyclists, but any motorists will enjoy the amazing views.

Virginia State Parks

Part of the larger Dragon Series that includes the Head, Tail, and Claw of the Dragon sections, the Back of the Dragon is not to be missed if you’re anywhere near Southwest Virginia. It’s a winding road full of switchbacks that illuminate vast views of the land below the cliff that the road follows for its entirety. Flanking the Back of the Dragon are the towns of Marion and Tazewell—both quaint spots worthy of a visit in their own right.

7. Run the New River Trail

Running along an abandoned railroad the entire way, this 57-mile route is wide, well-maintained, and characterized by a gentle slope that makes it just a bit of a incline challenge. The New River Trail passes by three major bridges and traverses two major tunnels, creating a visually interesting trip throughout.

8. Fly Fish in Whitetop Laurel Creek

Whitetop is one of the premier streams for fly fishing in Southwest Virginia. In these waters you’ll have the chance to snag rainbow trout and brown trout. While wild trout swim throughout the 10-mile creek, seven miles of it are stocked waters, upping your chances for a catch.

9. Take a Ghost Tour

The Lincoln Theatre in Marion, Virginia, is exquisite—one of the very few Art Deco Mayan Revival Theatres left in the states. It’s also supposedly haunted along with a few other notable buildings like the Collins House Inn and the Abijah Johnson House, a octagon-shaped dwelling turned non-profit. Take the ghost tour led by paranormal investigators around town and decide for yourself.

10. Taste Moonshine

The Davis Valley Winery started with crafting local wines from their vineyards, but has since progressed to distilling vodka, whiskey, and moonshine. They’ve got original recipe ’shine as well as fruity flavors like Cherry Pie for those with more particular tastes. Not only is enjoying moonshine a rare event for most, the winery is located on a pretty plot of land with great views that warrants a visit on its own.

Originally written by RootsRated for Southwest Virginia.

Featured image provided by Perry Smyre

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The Undiscovered Trail Towns of Southwest Virginia

Southwest Virginia is one of the most overlooked adventure epicenters in the Southeast. The region is blanketed with massive tracts of national forest, capped with cloud-parting summits, and airy expanses of high country found no place else in the state. The vast network of trails draped over Southwest Virginia’s wild spaces provides a portal to countless outdoor adventures—and links an array of picturesque mountain towns, each with a unique vibe. Best of all, these are still plenty of undiscovered gems to explore. Here are some of the small towns in the region that serve as an excellent base of operations as you explore the outdoors.

Galax

The 57-mile New River Trail is another of the region’s top options for cyclists.

The 57-mile New River Trail is another of the region’s top options for cyclists.

JR P

Dubbed the "world capital of old time mountain music," Galax, Virginia, is already on the radar of bluegrass connoisseurs. It’s the home of the Old Fiddlers Convention, the largest event of its kind in the world, dating back to 1935. Beyond world-class bluegrass, Galax is also loaded with small town charm and epic trails. The 57-mile New River Trail, cradled by the linear New River Trail State Park, begins in the heart of town, and traces the course of the New River, ironically one of the oldest waterways on the planet, for 39-miles. Plus, the town is just seven miles from the Blue Ridge Parkway. After a run, hike, or ride, Galax’s walkable downtown offers everything from BBQ joints to bike shops to boutiques, plus plenty of toe-tapping tunes. Swing by the Stringbean Coffee Shop and Shamrock Tea Room for one of their weekly Tuesday night jam sessions.

Abingdon

One of the most historic locations in Southwest Virginia, Abingdon is also one of the region’s premier trail towns. The westernmost trailhead for the 34.3-mile Virginia Creeper Trail is located in the heart of town. The nationally recognized rails-to-trails route once accommodated the locomotives huffing through the mountains of Southwest Virginia, but it’s now leading cyclists through the Mount Rogers High Country, and along Whitetop Laurel Creek. Aside from the trail, there are plenty of other reasons to stick around Abingdon, like the historic Barter Theatre, which is the nation’s longest running professional theater, dating back to 1933. While you’re there, treat yourself to luxurious comfort at the historic Martha Washington Inn & Spa and grab a local beer at the Wolf Hills Brewing Company.

St. Paul

Clinch River Adventures.
    Renee Sklarew

Clinch River Adventures.
Renee Sklarew

Perhaps one of the region’s most overlooked adventure hubs, St. Paul offers an eclectic trail buffet. Stretched along the shores of the Clinch River, the town offers paddling access to one of the most biodiverse rivers on the planet. Above town, the Mountain View Trail System features 100 miles of rugged riding for Off Highway Vehicles (OHVs) and dirt bikes–showcasing spectacular valley vistas. For a slower ride, there’s the 8-mile Sugar Hill Trail Loop, paralleling the Clinch River with the option to link up with the Guest River Gorge Trail for a 16-mile excursion. Off the trail, riders can recover at the Sugar Hill Brewing Company.

Damascus

Damascus is hardly a secret to weary thru-hikers on the Appalachian Trail. The renowned footpath goes right through town, and Damascus is known for offering even the smelliest hikers a warm welcome. But it’s not just the Appalachian Trail—the town is a junction for a whopping seven trails total, including the Virginia Creeper Trail, the Iron Mountain Trail, the Daniel Boone Heritage Trail, and The Crooked Road Music Trail. Plus, plenty of post-adventure perks pepper the town like the Damascus Brewery and Mojo’s Trailside Café.

Floyd

Visitors may flock to Floyd, Virginia, for Floydfest, but it offers year-round activities for outdoor enthusiasts.

Visitors may flock to Floyd, Virginia, for Floydfest, but it offers year-round activities for outdoor enthusiasts.

julianmeade

Floyd, Virginia, may be famous for Floydfest, the five-day outdoor musical festival, luring reggae and jam bands, but the town has plenty of adventures on tap too. For cyclists, there’s the Tour de Floyd route, a mapped metric century with nearly 6,700-feet of climbing—nearly half of which is along the Blue Ridge Parkway. Hikers can head to the trail-laced Rocky Knob Recreation Area with options like the 10.8-mile Rock Castle Gorge Trail or the 3-mile Black Ridge Trail. Plus, there’s the exceptionally biodiverse Buffalo Mountain Natural Area Preserve. The 3,971-foot summit is blanketed with airy glades and dotted with wildflowers and offers hikers 360-degree vistas.

Marion

Marion has made a name for itself as a cultural hub, with highlights like the historic Lincoln Theatre and the town’s monthly Arts Walk, connecting visitors with local artists and musicians. However, beyond the blossoming arts scene, Marion has also has plenty to entertain lovers of fresh air. The town is just minutes from Hungry Mother State Park. Anchored by a 108-acre lake, the recreation area offer paddlers plenty of mountain-shaded water, plus 17-miles of hiking and biking trails. At the end of the day, visitors can toast their outdoor adventures at Headspace Brewing Company, Marion’s first craft brewery, or at The Speakeasy, a Prohibition-themed gastropub housed in the town’s charm-loaded General Francis Marion Hotel.

Norton

View of Norton from Flag Rock.

View of Norton from Flag Rock.

Malee Oot

Overlooked by the towering Flag Rock Recreation Area, Norton is the ideal basecamp for all sorts of outdoor adventures. Just three miles from town, the Flag Rock Trail System offers 8-miles of singletrack spread over the lower reaches of High Knob. The recreation area is also a designated sanctuary for green salamanders—and for a Sasquatch-esque creature locally dubbed the "Wood Booger." Above Flag Rock, the High Knob Recreation Area of the Jefferson National Forest is garlanded with routes like the 33-mile High Knob Trail and the leisurely mile-long Lake Shore Loop. Cap off the day in the cozy, subterranean pub at the Inn at Wise.

Wytheville

Wytheville has a little something for everyone. The birthplace of first lady Edith Bolling Wilson, the town is sprinkled with museums—like the Haller-Gibboney Rock House Museum—and a smattering of antique shops, art studios, and one-of-a-kind eateries. Plus, there are plenty of ways to head outside. The town-owned Crystal Springs Recreation Area offers an easy escape for hikers and singletrack seekers, and slightly further afield, the Seven Sisters Trail is a birders paradise, offering hikers a 4.8-mile tour of Little Walker Mountain, with the opportunity to spot species like ruffled grouse, Acadian flycatchers, and pileated woodpeckers. Backcountry aficionados can make tracks for the Kimberling Creek Wilderness Area of the Jefferson National Forest—a medley of oak and hickory, punctuated with flowering dogwood and rhododendron, spread along the southern edge of Hogback Mountain. After a day on the trail, stick around for the Davis Valley Winery.

Tazewell

Burke’s Garden is a beautiful place for cyclists and hikers to explore.

Burke’s Garden is a beautiful place for cyclists and hikers to explore.

Barry Sannes

Tazewell is the perfect jumping off point for one of the region’s most stunning natural features, Burke’s Garden, a mountain-encircled crater aptly nicknamed God’s Thumbprint. The entire crater is designated as a National Historic District, ideal for road riders, and the New River Valley Bicycle Association has even mapped a Burke’s Garden Century route. The group also hosts an annual Burke’s Garden Century event every Fall (on Virginia Tech’s move-in weekend). Meanwhile hikers can get a bird’s-eye view from the Appalachian Trail—and afterwards, there is the Burke’s Garden General Store (6156 Burke’s Garden Road), offering baked goods, sandwiches, and Amish-made gifts.

Pulaski

Nestled at the foot of Draper Mountain, Pulaski is the perfect portal to outdoor adventure. Mountain bikers don’t have to stray far from the historic railroad town to hit the Draper Mountain trail network, featuring 8- miles of precision-crafted singletrack, with enough gritty ascents and rock features to cater to advanced riders. Paddlers can set out for Gatewood Park and Reservoir. The sylvan recreation area anchored by the serene reservoir features 162 acres of water to explore. Aside from outdoor wonders, the town has highlights like The Marketplace, one of the region’s top farmers markets, featuring live music and a varied selection of wine and microbrews (Tuesdays 4 p.m.- to 8 p.m., May through August). For the quintessential summer evening, head to Calfee Park, home of the Pulaski Yankees, and one of the oldest minor league ballfields in the country.

Originally written by RootsRated for Southwest Virginia.

Featured image provided by Cody Myers Photography

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How to Have an Adventurous Multisport Weekend (and then Pamper Yourself) in Southwest Virginia

After the grit and grime, the best way to cap off an epic outdoor adventure is with a little well-deserved pampering. Southwest Virginia offers the best of both worlds—it’s an outdoor lover’s paradise brimming with adventure, from mountain-swaddled lakes to wilderness-cloaked trails to cloud-splitting summits with plenty of epicurean delights, engaging cultural heritage, and cozy places to spend the night. Here’s just a sample of how to spend an adventurous weekend in Southwest Virginia while still enjoying the good life.

Day One

The Martha Washington Hotel.

The Martha Washington Hotel.

Cody Myers Photography

Begin your adventure infused weekend in Abingdon. Once one of the last outposts on the Great Wilderness Road for settlers headed to the frontier, the 250-year-old town has a long history of welcoming travelers. For breakfast, peruse the sizeable Abingdon Farmers Market (Saturdays from April to November; 8 a.m.-1 p.m.), where you can grab both indulgent pastries and pick-up picnic fixings for lunch. Head to Zazzy’z Coffee House and Roastery for a quick caffeine infusion, or fuel-up with a healthy brew at the White Birch Juice Company.

Next, choose from the smorgasbord of Southwest Virginia adventures on tap and easily accessible from Abingdon. For a quick hike, ride, or run—without even leaving town—head for the trailhead for the 34-mile Virginia Creeper National Recreation Trail, in the heart of downtown Abingdon. The nationally recognized rail-trail was once a thoroughfare for the supply-laden locomotives huffing through mountain-rippled Southwest Virginia en route to North Carolina. Rent a bike or arrange a shuttle at the Virginia Creeper Trail Bike Shop, just steps from the trailhead.

Grayson Highlands State park is known for its wild ponies.

Grayson Highlands State park is known for its wild ponies.

Cody Myers Photography

Then, pick your adventure from Southwest Virginia’s backcountry buffet. Head for Grayson Highlands State Park, where hikers can hop on the Appalachian Trail and head for the high country of Mount Rogers National Recreation Area, touted by thru-hikers as one of the highlights of the entire 2,190-mile footpath. You’ll find roving ponies graze alpine meadows in the shadow of Virginia’s highest summit. Rather climb instead? Grayson Highlands is the state’s premier bouldering destination, with scalable formations scattered throughout the park offering more than 1,000 problems to tackle. Mountain bikers craving singletrack can hit the 2.3-mile Wilburn Branch Trail or the park’s portions of the 52-mile Virginia Highlands Horse Trail.

Rather spend a day on the water? Scope out Southwest Virginia’s mountain-cradled lakes. In nearby Marion, Hungry Mother State Park offers 108-acres of forest-fringed flatwater to explore—and when you need a little time on dry land, hit the 17-miles of trails ringing the lake. Or head for the secluded, 300-acre Laurel Bed Lake, which sits at a celestial elevation of 3,600-feet in the upper reaches of the Clinch Mountain Wildlife Management Area, the most biodiverse spot in the state of Virginia.

When you are ready for some rest and relaxation, head back to Abingdon for some well-deserved pampering. Drop your bags at the elegantly luxurious Martha Washington Inn and Spa, and head for the glasshouse enclosed saltwater pool or soak in the expansive, two-tiered hot tub. Cozy up on one of the overstuffed barstools at the hotel’s Sister’s American Grill and don’t forget to swing by the front desk for the inn’s token final nightcap—a "goodnight" glass of port.

Wolf Hill Brewing Company offers a wide variety of locally made beer.

Wolf Hill Brewing Company offers a wide variety of locally made beer.

Perry Smyre

Rather hit the town instead? Mosey over to the Wolf Hills Brewing Company for a pint. The taproom offers an array of flavor-loaded brews, and the place is named for the lively local legend about Daniel Boone’s encounter with a roving wolf pack near Courthouse Hill, now the heart of town. Take a stroll down Main Street to the Tavern Restaurant. Built in 1779, the Tavern is housed in one of the oldest (and purportedly, most haunted) buildings in town. It has served as everything from the first post office on the western side of the Blue Ridge Mountains to a Civil War hospital. Charcoal-etched bed numbers still adorn the attic walls. Today, the establishment serves up elegant cuisine, including German-inspired fare, and boasts a lengthy libation list.

Day Two

View of Norton from the Flag Rock Recreation Area.
    Malee Oot

View of Norton from the Flag Rock Recreation Area.
Malee Oot

Hit the road and head for the nearby town of Norton, just an hour from Abingdon. Swing by the nostalgic, jukebox-bedecked Corner Diner at the Inn at Wise for a tasty calorie-infusion before beginning your day of outdoor adventure.

After breakfast, head for the forest-cloaked mountains soaring above town to hit the newly carved, 8 miles of singletrack lacing the Flag Rock Recreation Area, which overlooks Norton. Mountain bikers will find trails catering to both seasoned riders and newbies. The gorgeous sweep of land is both a pristine playground for outdoor lovers and sanctuary for rare species—including globally rare green salamanders and, allegedly, a Bigfoot-like critter called the "Woodbooger." Head slightly further afield to the High Knob Recreation Area of the Jefferson National Forest, which was built by Franklin Roosevelt’s Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s. If the skies cooperate, hardy hikers can revel in a view encompassing five states and the region’s loftiest peaks from the observation tower crowning the recreation area.

For a more mellow but equally scenic hike, run, or ride, head for the stunning 5.8-mile Guest River Gorge Trail. The trail, constructed from a converted railway bed, hugs the Guest River as it charts a course through Stone Mountain, showcasing the 300-million year old rock formations and ribbons of forest frequented by flycatchers, tanagers and warblers. Or, use the Guest River Gorge Trail as a portal to the Heart of Appalachia Bike Route. The 128-mile road-mapped route meanders all the way to Burke’s Garden—a 10-mile crater aptly nicknamed God’s Thumbprint.

Cap off the day in comfort back at the century-old Inn at Wise in Norton. Reminisce about your day on the trail over craft brews at the inn’s cozy basement pub, and tuck into a spread of Southern-inspired comfort food, like fried green tomatoes or chicken and waffles. After dinner, you can decide for yourself if the colorful tales of the inn’s lingering ghostly guests are genuine.

Originally written by RootsRated for Southwest Virginia.

Featured image provided by Perry Smyre

Where to view the solar eclipse in Abingdon

eclipse photoAbingdon will experience an almost total eclipse of the sun on Monday August 21, 2017 at 2:37pm.

It’s the event of a lifetime, and Abingdon is a great place to witness this amazing phenomenon. According to NASA’s interactive map, Abingdon will experience a 95% eclipse of the sun.  The eclipse will start around 1:00pm, and reach maximum coverage at 2:37pm, lasting a little over 2 minutes. It will take another hour or so for the partial eclipse to end, finishing around 4:00pm.

eclipse map

Sounds like a great excuse to take the afternoon off!  Head to one of these ideal viewing spots in Abingdon, then make it a day-long celebration with lunch beforehand or dinner after! We’ve compiled a list of restaurants open on Mondays.

NOTE: To safely enjoy the eclipse, be sure to take precautions, like purchasing light-filtering glasses. According to NASA, “The only safe way to look directly at the uneclipsed or partially eclipsed sun is through special-purpose solar filters, such as “eclipse glasses.”  You can purchase solar filter glasses at Heartwood: Southwest Virginia’s Artisan Gateway in Abingdon, and join them for the Eclipse Party on the 21st!

If you choose to buy eclipse glasses online, visit the NASA site for a list of reputable vendors, and look for the ISO 12312-2 safety standard marking. Or, consider making a simple pinhole camera.

 

Great locations for eclipse viewing:

 

William King Museum of Art

415 Academy Dr NW, Abingdon, VA 24210

Located on one of the highest hills in Abingdon, the museum’s front lawn will provide a great view of the sky. On-site parking. The Museum is open until 5:00pm, so drop in and browse the exhibits while you are there – it’s free!

 

Veterans Memorial Park

425 Oakland St SW, Abingdon, VA 24210

Limited parking available at the park itself, or park at Food City for a short walk across Oakland Street to the park.

Veterans Memorial Park

Veterans Memorial Park

Coomes Recreation Center

300 Stanley St, Abingdon, VA 24210

On-site parking.  Kids will enjoy the playground while waiting for the eclipse.

 

Heartwood: Southwest Virginia’s Artisan Gateway

1 Heartwood Cir, Abingdon, VA 24210

Heartwood is hosting a Solar Eclipse Party on the 21st, featuring a viewing on the front lawn, and optional eclipse themed lunch. Ample parking available at Heartwood, and at the adjoining Virginia Highlands Community College. Heartwood is open until 5:00pm with regional art, music and a full-service restaurant (restaurant closes at 3:00pm).

Heartwood: Southwest Virginia's Artisan Gateway

Heartwood: Southwest Virginia’s Artisan Gateway

Restaurants open Monday

 

JJ’s Restaurant and Sports Bar

Sisters American Grill at The Martha

White Birch Food and Juice

Bonefire Smoke House

Heartwood Restaurant

Milano’s Italian Cuisine

The Tavern

The Peppermill

Zazzy’z Coffee House and Roastery

Shopping open Monday

The Candy Shed

Goodman Jewelers

Heartwood

Holston Mountain Artisans

Jeroleen’s Shed

Wolf Hills Antiques

Salt of the Earth

 

20160803_Virginia_SWV Tourism RR-30

Trail Town, USA: Your Guide to a Weekend in Abingdon and Damascus

Tucked into the hills of Southwest Virginia, and connected by the famous Virginia Creeper Trail, the neighboring towns of Abingdon and Damascus have all the essentials of a weekender’s paradise. From charming restaurants and storefronts to endless outdoor adventures, these charming small towns have the perfect combination of activities for a well-rounded weekend getaway. Visitors will find rich history, unique outdoor recreation, fine dining, and much more. Though Abingdon and Damascus are small, their wealth of culture and lively atmospheres will make you think you’ve discovered a whole new world hidden in the beautiful landscapes of Southwest Virginia.

A stroll down Abingdon’s delightful Main Street is a great way to start your excursion, with its brick sidewalks doubling as a viewing platform for two centuries of architecture. Here, you can peruse local art galleries, visit Katbird’s Wine and Gourmet, Abingdon Olive Oil Company, and stop in for a root beer float at the 1950s-style soda fountain. On Tuesdays and Saturdays, you can find the farmer’s market nearby, offering fresh local produce and baked goods.

The front porch of the historic Martha Washington Inn in Abingdon is a great place to sit and relax after a day on the trails.
The front porch of the historic Martha Washington Inn in Abingdon is a great place to sit and relax after a day on the trails.

Cody Myers Photography

The Martha Washington Inn and Spa stands elegantly on Main Street, inviting guests to experience its well-preserved 19th century architecture, or enjoy a meal at Sisters, its American grill.

Abingdon offers a wealth of dining options, perhaps most notably The Tavern, which was built in 1799 and is the oldest of Abingdon’s historic buildings. A few blocks off Main Street, visitors can enjoy craft beer at Wolf Hills Brewery in a more laid-back atmosphere, often with live music from local artists.

The Heartwood is filled with works from area artists and includes a cafe that focuses on using locally sourced ingredients to create traditional dishes. Renee Sklarew
The Heartwood is filled with works from area artists and includes a cafe that focuses on using locally sourced ingredients to create traditional dishes.
Renee Sklarew

The hub of Abingdon’s music and art can be found a few minutes out of downtown at Heartwood: Southwest Virginia’s Artisan Gateway. Here visitors can admire unique crafts from dozens of carefully selected regional artists before enjoying a meal or a drink at the cafe. Heartwood’s chef is passionate about reinterpreting traditional dishes of Southwest Virginia, and upholds Heartwood’s commitment to the community by using locally sourced ingredients whenever possible.

Heartwood is also home to The Crooked Road: Virginia’s Heritage Music Trail, an organization dedicated to sharing and celebrating traditional music. The Crooked Road spans 19 Virginia counties and includes 60 venues that showcase the music of Southwest Virginia, from bluegrass to gospel. At Heartwood, The Crooked Road presents live music every Thursday night— plus some good ol’ southern barbecue!

Abingdon remains in touch with its roots through more than music, with many preserved sites where people can interact with the area’s rich history. Visitors can spend hours at the Abingdon Muster Grounds, which has a museum on colonial and revolutionary history, reenactments, a visitors center, and hiking trails. If that doesn’t scratch your history itch, visit the Old Mollie Steam Engine, or take an Abingdon Spirit Tour and learn the town’s lore.

The Barter Theatre dates back to the Depression, and it attracts more than 160,000 people each year for its live performances.
The Barter Theatre dates back to the Depression, and it attracts more than 160,000 people each year for its live performances.

Cody Myers Photography

At the heart of Abingdon is the Barter Theatre, a locally operated theatre situated on Main Street across from the Martha. The Barter Theatre opened its doors at the height of the Depression in 1933 under the ownership of the actor Robert Porterfield, who had the idea to let people barter their way into the theatre. Townspeople would offer up whatever they could: cow’s milk, eggs, unsellable produce, homemade jam and so on. The business was wildly successful and today the Barter sees more than 160,000 guests per year.

Damascus, a few miles eastward, is equally full of character, wrapping small-town charm and thriving tourism into one funky little package. The lively atmosphere cleverly disguises that the population of Damascus, the gateway to Mount Rogers National Recreation Area, is less than a thousand. What it lacks in people, though, it makes up for in trails, trees, and beautiful Virginia scenery.

The Appalachian Trail runs directly through Damascus— literally, right down Main Street, making Damascus the resting place of thousands of thru-hikers every year. In May, the town hosts the Trail Days festival, with parades, talent shows, concerts and more for hikers and other visitors. Other nearby trails include the Trans-America National Biking Trail, the Iron Mountain Trail, the Daniel Boone Heritage Trail and, of course, the renowned Virginia Creeper Trail.

The Virginia Creeper Trail is one of the region’s gems. Cyclists of all abilities can start at Whitetop Station and enjoy a downhill ride into Damascus—with stunning scenery the entire route.
The Virginia Creeper Trail is one of the region’s gems. Cyclists of all abilities can start at Whitetop Station and enjoy a downhill ride into Damascus—with stunning scenery the entire route.

Cody Myers Photography

The Virginia Creeper Trail is a 34-mile, rail-to-trails path that begins in Abingdon and terminates near Whitetop Station. Biking the famous trail is a popular activity for visitors to the area, with options to bike parts or all of it. Abingdon and Damascus bike shops offer rentals and shuttle services for the Creeper Trail. Take the shuttle to Whitetop Station and enjoy the incredibly scenic ride back to Damascus, which is almost entire downhill. It’s also a great area for fishing, horseback riding, birdwatching, and hiking or running.

Damascus offers various lodging options, including B&Bs, hostels, campgrounds and inns. The Old Mill Inn is located in the heart of Damascus and is a historic grist mill perched on the banks of Laurel Creek. Visitors can stay overnight in the 12 rooms, or drop by and enjoy a meal from the inn’s spacious restaurant on one of the three back decks overlooking the creek and the mill waterfall.

Other restaurants in Damascus include Mojo’s Trailside Cafe and Coffeehouse, a great breakfast spot, and Bobo McFarlands, a not-so-Irish pub that’s a favorite hangout for thru-hikers. For a variety of delicious beer, there’s Damascus Brewery, a one-man operation located on the outskirts of town that offers up 47 fantastic micro-brews.

Damascus is also a wonderful locale for horseback riding, as it’s near the Virginia Highlands, the Virginia Creeper Trail and Mount Rogers National Recreation Area. Several local outfitters offer guided horseback riding trips in the area.

Whether you visit for a few hours or a few days, on two wheels or four, you’ll find yourself immersed in Virginia tradition and surrounded by some of the Southeast’s most spectacular scenery. Abingdon and Damascus are bursting with recreation and entertainment for people of all ages, and the fusion of modern luxuries and historical marvels will make you feel uniquely welcome in these charming communities.

Originally written by RootsRated for Southwest Virginia.

Featured image provided by Cody Myers Photography

20170609_Virginia_Virginia Creeper Trail_Biking

Virginia Creeper Trail – Mountain Biking

Intro

Following the route of an old railroad bed, the Virginia Creeper Trail is named for the steam engine that once chugged along it and for the Virginia Creeper vine that populates the area. With the abandonment of many railroads in the 1970s, a national movement gained momentum to convert train tracks into trails. A coalition of local citizens, government and the US Forest Service banded together to acquire the old railroad right-of-way, and thus the Creeper Trail was born in 1987. The 34-mile multi-use trail begins in Abingdon, a popular access point at Mile 0, and then carries on through rolling farmland to Damascus at Mile 15.5. From there, the Virginia Creeper winds up to its highest point at Whitetop Station, offering plenty of amenities and activities along the way. Visitors can make their time on the trail as leisurely or as strenuous as they please, spending anywhere from a few relaxing hours to several exploratory days in the area.

What Makes It Great

The Virginia Creeper Trail is a dream come true for anyone who wants to become immersed in the beautiful scenery of the Southwest Virginia and get a firsthand look at its unique history and landscapes. The trail winds its way through airy forests alongside the bubbling Beaver Dam Creek, with opportunities to stop and explore quaint towns and historic buildings. Cruising down the Virginia Creeper Trail on a bicycle is a unique way to experience the mountains of Virginia, and cycling is the perfect medium between hiking and driving, allowing you to cover a lot of ground while still being intertwined with your surroundings.

While technically considered a mountain biking trail, the Virginia Creeper is well-maintained and consists mostly of crushed stone, so it can be easily navigated on a hybrid or road bike.

The most popular way to complete the trail is to take a shuttle from Damascus or Abingdon to Whitetop Station, the highest point on the the Virginia Creeper. From there, visitors can bike 17 miles down to Damascus to be picked up. The gentle downward slope on this section of the well-marked trail makes it a breeze for even the most inexperienced cyclists. Along the way, visitors can stop to enjoy panoramic views of the rolling mountains, cool off in the creek. and even break for snacks and restrooms. (There are no facilities actually on the trail, but there are 11 access points to towns, forest service centers, water and toilets.) The 47 trestle bridges on the path provide a bird’s-eye view of the forest floor and eliminate the ups and downs as the route navigates the hilly terrain.

Beyond Damascus, the trail continues another 17 miles to Abingdon, a charming little town with lots to see and do.

While most people complete the trail in this relaxed way, those looking for a challenge can opt to climb the 1,600 feet up to Whitetop Station, either on foot or on two wheels.

Who is Going to Love It

Anyone looking to see spectacular scenery and cover a lot of ground with minimal effort, especially families seeking an outdoor activity that everyone can enjoy. With options to make this trail extremely easy or very difficult, anyone can find their perfect activity and have a great time on the Virginia Creeper Trail. For families and people with less mobility, the 17-mile ride from Whitetop to Damascus is a gentle downward slope that everyone can complete. Even inexperienced cyclists can ride the trail’s full 34 miles in one day. Those looking for a more serious day on the Creeper Trail can reverse the route and climb all the way to Whitetop Station. While it’s primarily a biking trail, it’s also a popular destination for hiking, fishing, birdwatching, and horseback riding.

Directions, Parking, & Regulations

The trail has access points in Whitetop, Alvarado, Damascus, Creek Junction, and Abingdon. Many people choose to take a shuttle from Damascus or Abingdon up to Whitetop Station, the highest point on the trail. From there, you can ride the 17 miles to Damascus to be picked up, or all the way into Abingdon. In any of these towns, the trail is signed and easy to locate.

Virginia Creeper Trail – Mountain Biking

Tips

Difficulty 1 star

Time to Complete 4.0 hours

4 Hours to 1 Day
Distance 34.3 miles

Seasonality
  • Spring
  • Summer
  • Fall
  • Winter
Land Website Virginia Creeper Trail
Topo Map
Fees/Permits False

Access to the trail is free, but most people choose to pay for a shuttle service so as to only ride the trail in one direction.
Dog Friendly Yes

Destination Highlights
  • Most of a day
  • Great for families

Featured image provided by Mark Peterson

Sign Painter Brings New Life to Sign in Downtown Abingdon

New businesses are breathing new life to downtown Abingdon, Va. Just off West Main Street, tucked between some antique shops is a fading piece of the past. The yellow and white paint of the general store sign is just barely visible on the brick outside of Wolf Hills Antiques.

“We didn’t want to get rid of it,” said Bobby Lane, owner of the Market Place Building and Wolf Hills Antiques, “but it’s an eyesore. Since this is an antique shop, we decided to restore it. We don’t want it to look too fresh, though. We want to make it look old.”

Wolf Hills Antiques is one of four new businesses to open on West Main Street in the past year, and curb appeal is at the forefront of business owners’ minds to bring in new customers.

To insure that the Lanes’ vision for the sign comes to life, they recruited a real walldog to complete the restoration.

“Walldogs” are what the original painters of the sign would have been called according to Carl Jessee who got his start in the sign business 65 years ago.

Carl’s first job was painting the weights of coal trucks on the cab doors. “The state passed a law that the weight of the truck when it was empty and when it was full had to be painted on the side. There were plenty of coal trucks in Honaker, and I needed a job.”

Mr. Jessee has two signs in the American Sign Museum in Cincinnati, Ohio. He and his son, JJ Jessee, will be overseeing the restoration of the sign. The Jessee family runs the Bristol Sign Company, which Carl opened in 1969.

“Dad’s done billboards and wall signs. He used to do raceway work too. He’d be out there at four in the morning fixing the signs that were damaged during the Saturday race for the Sunday race,” JJ Jessee said.

Now retired from the sign business, Mr. Jessee owns an art and frame shop in Bristol, Va. He only reprises his role as a walldog-sign-painter for special occasions such as a restoration.

Carl Jessee has seen the sign business go from painters to printers.  “There is no comparison between when I started in signs and now. Everything is computerized. Everyone is going to vinyl,” he said.

 Jessees and Lanes in front of the sign from the 1950s

Jessees and Lanes in front of the sign from the 1950s

 

The Jessees’ and the Lanes’ goal to improve the facade the Market Place Building lines up with the goals of many business owners and community members in Abingdon. The non profit organization Abingdon Main Street is focused on making downtown Abingdon a place that people want to shop, dine, and stay. Abingdon Main Street’s volunteers are working to acquire grants for facade improvement.

“One of Abingdon Main Street’s goals is to help business and property owners preserve the unique and welcoming atmosphere of our downtown area and to also improve and update it when necessary. Part of our work is to direct resources to them to achieve this goal,” said President of Abingdon Main Street Scott Sikes.