Carrie “Mudfoot” Stambaugh
For The Beacon
Eastern Kentucky has added a second Rails to Trails destination. The grand opening of the 8.6-mile Prestonsburg Passage Rail Trail was marked with a celebration over Labor Day weekend, drawing dozens of bike riders, walkers and even a few inline skaters to the paved pathway.
Archer Park serves as the official Prestonsburg trailhead to the multi-use trail, which follows the Left Fork of Middle Creek (a tributary of the Levisa Fork of Big Sandy River) southwest toward the former coal community of David. Along the way it passes the Middle Creek National Battlefield, where Union soldiers under the command of future U.S. President James A. Garfield (then a Colonel) fought the largest and most significant Civil War battle in eastern Kentucky.
Another highlight of the trail is a covered bridge created from the shell of a former school bus, which was donated by the Floyd County School District. There are five other bridges over Middle Creek along the 8-foot-wide paved and mostly shaded path. Despite crossing several county roads, the trail is shielded from traffic noise by dense trees throughout much of its distance although it does open up to pastoral land in several areas.
The Prestonsburg Passage is open to horses as well as walkers, runners, bikers and skaters. A vision of Prestonsburg Mayor Les Stapleton, the trail was funded via a $1.95 million Abandoned Mine Land Pilot Project grant. Rush Off-Road and EastPark also received funding from the program, which was created in 2016 to reclaim mine sites while boosting local economies.
The second rails to trails project to come to fruition in eastern Kentucky within the past decade, the Prestonsburg Passage Trail marks a milestone for the Trail Town movement that has been gaining speed in the region. The Dawkins Line Rail Trail, which currently stretches 18 of its 36 planned miles, has both its terminuses within a 20-minute drive of Prestonsburg. The western-most trailhead is located at Royalton a 20-minute drive into Magoffin County, while its other northeastern terminus is at Hager Hill in Johnson County a 15-minute drive north.
By far the most popular section of the Dawkins Line for day-trippers is the stretch between Royalton and the 660-foot-long Gun Creek Tunnel. An out and back trip of approximately 16 miles, the trail gradually ascends to the tunnel making the return trip all downhill. A shorter, one-way trip is the ride from Swamp Branch trailhead at mile 8.3 off state Route 825, to the Royalton trailhead at mile marker 18.2. Gun Creek Tunnel, constructed of large, solid wooden beams, is located at mile marker 15. Numerous other trailheads along the trail allow trips of varying length from short trips of 1.4 miles to the entire 18-mile trail. A restored caboose at the trailhead named for former Kentucky First Lady Jane Beshear, an avid trail rider and supporter of the Dawkins Line is located at mile marker 18.9, just outside of Royalton. The caboose doubles as a visitor center and office for the Royalton Trail Town Committee.
Between the two trails is Jenny Wiley State Park (JWSP) with its Dewey Lake (John’s Creek), the Levisa Fork also winds its way north between Prestonsburg and Paintsville. Both waterways are popular destinations with paddlers. For several years Prestonsburg has hosted a Paddlefest on the river the fourth Saturday of each month from May to September, providing shuttles for paddlers along an 8-mile stretch of the river.
Another local trail destination is the Sugarcamp Mountain complex. A joint project between the City of Prestonsburg and JWSP, it features six miles of multi-use trails and an additional 12-miles of single track for mountain bikers and hikers.
Visit PrestonsburgKy.org for information on the Prestonsburg Passage Trail and Prestonsburg Paddlefest; SugarcampTrails.com for information on the Sugarcamp Mountain Trails; search parks.ky.gov/swamp-branch/parks/recreation/dawkins-line-rail-trail or search for each on Facebook.
The Prestonsburg Passage Trail is located approximately 70 miles south of Ashland. The trailhead at Archer Park is located off Ky 114, which intersects U.S. 23 in Prestonsburg.
The Dawkins Line is located approximately 60 miles south of Ashland, Ky.
The Jenny’s Creek Trailhead is located off Route 825 near U.S. 23 near Paintsville, Ky. The Swamp Branch Trailhead can also be accessed from Route 825, while the Royalton access point is off Route 7 behind the Royalton Church. The Jane Beshear access point is off Route 7 at the intersection of Route 867.