Greenbriar River Bike Trail, West Virginia

Greenbriar River, West Virginia

Crossing the river on the Greenbriar Trail. Image from
Crossing the river on the Greenbriar Trail. Image from


Cruise along the Greenbriar River Bike Trail and you ride the roadbed of steel rails that no longer exist.  Building bike trails on railway beds creates an easy gradient for cyclists, with smooth climbs, easy descents.

The Greenbriar River Trail runs beside the river of the same name for a stretch of 77 miles (124 km) from the settlement of Cass to North Caldwell.  One hundred years ago the towns along this railway line were active, the communities thriving, or even bustling fueled with enterprising immigrants from faraway countries and newly or almost-free slaves from the nearby Southern states.  Proclamations and edicts such as the end of slavery in the U.S. may have been issued, but the reality of freedom would need decades for real effect.  All along the river, people made a living harvesting local resources  for those who owned land — cutting trees, mining coal and grinding corn on water mills. And the resources rolled on the river or the railways to markets in other places.

Imagine what an amazing network would exist if every decommissioned stretch of railway in North America was converted to a bike trail!  We could bike safely across the continent, easy peasy!

Don’t forget to wear blaze orange or hot pink jackets or vests during hunting seasons in West Virginia.  When I rode this trail a stretch of months ago, I could hear hunters taking pot shots in the woods.  Did they know the bike trail exists?

Wikipedia states “the Greenbrier is the longest untamed (unblocked) river left in the Eastern U.S.”  which is a sad thing to learn.  Culverts, dams, spills, canals, diversions steal the vitality of the other long rivers in the Eastern U.S.


Will Hunters Wear Hot Pink?

Is it heretical to think we need more deer hunters? Somebody needs to thin the herds that have resulted from rapacious outer suburban development.

I’ve already got a permit to buy a firearm. I’ve been thinking of learning how to shoot. I’d look great in hot pink hunting cammis.

Flipping through a hook and bullet magazine,  I learned that hunters should wear bright pink. Shocking pink is invisible to deer, yet easily distinguished by humans forging through winter woods. Will he-men with guns wear hot pink?

I’ve shadowed deer in genuine wilderness and protected pseudo-wilderness, — if a human can get there easily, it’s not true wilderness.

The deer live in and around their own gated communities — semi-suburban enclaves, parks, state controlled nature areas. The deer are my neighbors, live closer to me than some of my siblings. I know where the deer hide in regional parks and preserves, but that’s not saying much, since they parade with ease along highways, across lawns for gourmet shrubbery, and into town for brief celebrity in local news rags. You’ve seen the photos when a deer leaps through a store-front, spooked by its own reflection.

When I am in their territory, I follow the paths graven by their hoof marks or marked with scat. Deer paths emerge as a distinct line of scuttled leaves in the ground cover of fall and winter, a muddy track in spring, or flattened grass in summer. Nearly every walk along their byways, I’ll see the twitching white plume of a tail. I’ve seen leaping solitary bucks, herds of doe that nuzzle their young and lie close. Near an erratic outcropping of rock at the end of a shuffled leaf trail, the moss is upturned.

Deer don’t have enough to eat. Some townships and counties hire off-duty sharpshooters to cull the herd.  Who gets the meat?

As the skeins of forest thin and break at the hands of developers, the deer hew tightly plaited paths where they can no longer roam widely. The deer paths demonstrate an intelligence and instinct. Within hailing distance of convenience stores, ramblers, schools and skating rinks, the deer-ways curve with the land using topography or fallen trees for cover.

When deer are wild in the woods, they retain the shroud of mystery; when they are common as pigeons or rats, they lose their immunity lodged in beauty.

Is there an answer for the crowded suburban deer who live along your backyard fence? More state sponsored deer-kill seasons with volunteer hunters dressed in pink?

White-tailed deer, Odocoileus virginianus, with their vulnerable Audrey Hepburn eyes, turn your heart when you see them shadowed on a lawn or poised to leap a roadside barrier. But to a homeowner or driver, they signal disaster, even death. Deer darting across country byways cause crashes. My mother’s Hosta collection were midnight snacking grounds for the deer until she moved all the plants to a fenced garden.

The deer have a four million year history, got along just fine with the indigenous residents and our immigrant forebears. When did enough room to roam become nowhere at all?

I know deer are losing their fear of humans. I don’t need to wear pink to be invisible. They’re used to my scent. The foals are complacent, stand and stare back, their only display of authority to strut in place with their white tails at half-mast.

With deer living in parks, fool-‘em strips of trees along the highways and suburban vest-pockets woods, they’ve become semi-domestic fixtures, like goats or dogs. They live with squirrels and ground hogs and opossum. And die like them too, as road-kill. A neighbor butchers fresh deer killed by motorists and gives it to the food bank for poor folks.