New friends, new places on trail

January 2, 2011

By ELIZA WINSTON - Bulletin Staff Writer

The Dick & Willie Passage continues to bring new people to the area and show local people new things about their community.

On Saturday, the Dan River Basin Association (DRBA) held its “First Saturday Outing” on the trail, which opened in October. More than 20 people walked on the 4.5-mile trail that runs along part of the former Danville and Western Railroad track, from which it derives its name.

DRBA volunteer and Master Naturalist Lynn Pritchett identified different trees and plants along the trail. She discussed the different vines that grow around trees, explaining that the trees with twisted trunks along the path were created by vines that have been covered by the tree’s growth.

Henry County Administrator Benny Summerlin was among the walkers. He spoke with people who were curious about the former factory buildings along the trail, as well as those still in operation, such as Southern Finishing.

“Walking the trail makes me want to learn more about (local) history,” Pritchett said.

Hikers also spotted signs of animal life. Pritchett pointed out several deer hoof prints next to the paved trail. Joan Ragland of Martinsville, one of the walkers, said she often saw wildlife on the trail, including a fox that once ran in front of her bike.

Some hikers brought their own “wildlife.” Ragland was busy trying to keep up with her small dog, Sydney, who insisted on leading the group throughout the walk. Sydney was joined by Jonah, a lab owned by Connie Russell of Ruffin, N.C.

Russell, a DRBA member, said Saturday was her first time on the Dick & Willie Passage. She added that she wants to come back with her dogs and bike — “but not at the same time.”

The trail has proven popular among area residents and tourists alike. Despite the damp, foggy weather Saturday morning, DRBA walkers weren’t the only ones on the trail. Several people were biking or jogging, and some brought their dogs with them.

Hugh Smith of Kernersville, N.C., who was visiting family in Martinsville, said he read about the outing in the newspaper and decided to check it out. It was his first time on the Dick & Willie Passage.

However, it turned out that Smith had been on some parts of the trail in its previous life as a railroad track. Smith, who grew up in Martinsville, said he remembered walking on an old carriage road that ran beside the track during hikes when he was a Boy Scout.

Paul McKee of Bassett said he often bikes on the trail and has met several families who visited the area just to use it.

One family McKee met said they traveled to many biking trails throughout Virginia, including ones in cities such as Roanoke and Lynchburg. The family told McKee that the Dick & Willie Passage was the best one they had found.

Another family McKee met while biking on the trail also was from out of town. They weren’t going to spend the night, but they were going to “gas up and eat” before going home, he said, praising the trail for bringing tourists to businesses in the area.

The Dan River Basin Association, which has an office in the Henry County Administration Building, offers river and trail outings, creates river accesses for boating, floating and fishing, and promotes trails and greenways. It also is known locally for its work with the Trout in the Classrooms project.


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