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Walk the Bluestone Turnpike for Wildflowers

By Johnny Molloy • Apr 15, 2018 at 7:00 AM

This Bluestone Turnpike — an old river road-turned-trail — travels a corridor along the Bluestone National Wild and Scenic River. The Bluestone River, a tributary of the New River in wild wonderful West Virginia, is about a 2-3 hour drive from the Tri-Cities. The mostly level trek is an excellent spring wildflower destination and provides expansive views of the Bluestone River, making its way past bluffs and rich forests en route to the town site of Lilly, where the Bluestone and the Little Bluestone Rivers meet.

The Bluestone Turnpike connects two scenic West Virginia state parks – Bluestone State Park and Pipestem State Park. A century back, this old road was used by farmers, fishermen and other residents of this deep river valley, a major tributary of the New River.

Bluestone Dam, completed in 1949, rises just downstream of where the Bluestone River and the New River’s confluence. Residents of the lower Bluestone River valley were forced to leave their homes, emptying an already sparsely populated gorge. Originally, engineers estimated the height of the lake created by Bluestone Dam to be higher than what ended up, leaving the lower Bluestone River free-flowing and in federal ownership. With its plant diversity and thousand-foot deep gorge the Bluestone River became a candidate for a wild and scenic status.

The Bluestone Turnpike stays on the west side of the river. Initially, the river isn't visible. However, the trail rises a bit to a bluff, presenting an elevated vista of sonorant rapids, gravel bars, big boulders and islands. This portion of the waterway offers mild whitewater and only during late winter and spring when it is high enough to be floated. In summer and fall the Bluestone flows more placidly, but is used by anglers and swimmers.

The entire trail is 8 miles one way. Interestingly, you can take a tram from Pipestem State Park down to the southerly trailhead, or connect to it using other hiking trails. The northern end has a more modest beginning. Simply follow the old roadbed, noting the blasted walls that created this transportation corridor through this rugged defile.

Area residents moved themselves and their goods along what is now recreational path we can enjoy. Oak, maple and other hardwoods rise on hills above, with moist species such as sycamore, ash, river birch, buckeye and pawpaw holding sway near the river. Wildflowers will color the valley from spring through fall.

You will cross several rocky tributaries of the Bluestone River en route to the town site of Lilly. Natural bluffs stand high above the trail. Upon reaching the town site of Lilly make sure and explore around. Lilly came to be in the late 1700s and was occupied until the mid-1900s, one of the first European habitations in what came to be West Virginia. Home foundations, a cemetery and other evidence await.

To get to the trailhead from the town square in Hinton, West Virginia, take WV 20 south for 5.2 miles to the right turn to Bluestone State Park. Turn right into Bluestone State Park and follow the main entrance road for 2.1 miles to the park office. From here, angle left toward the Old Mill Campground. Trace this park road for 1.8 miles more to dead end at the trailhead, shortly after passing the left turn into Old Mill Campground.

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