Another Hidden Gem: Laurel Ridge Trail and Twin Ridge Park

On the heels of having made it out to Hamlet Vineyards for the first time, I have found another local attraction hiding in plain sight. I’ve been here since 2014 and I had never heard anything about how pretty Twin Ridge Park is on Philpott Lake or seen any pictures of the amenities there.

In fact, prior to this, the only true access point for Philpott Lake that I had been to was the Philpott Marina (The yellow 1 in the shot below, lower right).

Imagine a trail going around this

Today I want to share some photos from a recent hike with the Homestead Hikers. Homestead Hikers is a hiking club (dues are $10 a year) connected with Reynolds Homestead, a historic property and extension of Virginia Tech. This extension is host to the College for Older Adults and they have some AMAZING programs. Honestly (and I am not kidding) I was looking forward to turning 50 because of the programs for seniors here. But I digress. Again.

Trail Head Sign

Twin Ridge Park is actually in Franklin County, Henry County’s neighbor. The trail we were hitting today was the Laurel Ridge Trail heading to Salthouse Branch. We would do a 3-mile round trip out-and-back hike.

There is parking along the side of the road at the trail head. A small stretch has stone put down for traction while the rest is mown grass. There’s room for maybe 8 to 10 cars parked perpendicular to the road. The boat launch is about a half a mile down the road so there is additional parking there but add a mile onto your hike if you park there.

The trail head sign says that this is a 2.5 mile long trail of moderate difficulty (1 hour to complete one way) and that it is open to hikers, bicyclists, and hunters. It describes the trail this way:

“Laurel Ridge Trail traverses through beautiful forested mountains, with stretches that hug the Philpott Lake shoreline, connecting Salthouse Branch Park and Twin Ridge Park. The trail is marked by trees with blue markings.”

A woodland path

Don’t worry about the “forested mountains” part. If that is true, it is in only the most technical sense. This is a nice woodland walk with only a slight decline as you progress along the path. It wouldn’t have been noticeable at all except that we did notice the slight incline when we reversed for our return.

The blue markings are critical. This is a beautiful path that is very visible most of the time but there are times when the trail forks and you need to know which way to go.

A fork in the trail

There were some things we all enjoyed looking at along the path. This tree had grown up right next to the path and then fell away from it, leaving a canopy of roots for an opportunistic woodland vine to climb.

A fallen tree

While this trail is going from point A to point B along the lake, the lake’s shoreline narrows until it becomes little more than a creek. You have to go a distance away from the body of the lake before you can get to a crossing. At one point, it is no more than a foot or two wide and it winds back and forth like a snake.

There, before we crossed, we found a foundation or basement for a structure now long gone. No one knows what its history is.

A foundation for a farm or a mill?

You do eventually have to cross the water but, by the time that you do, it’s not a significant crossing. At least, this is what it looked like when we did it.

The water crossing

We saw a turtle. It was right on the trail but it blended in so well that it very nearly got stepped on.

Can you see the turtle?

Being woodland, much of the trail looks alike and it was challenging to get good photos. I would see something I considered beautiful, snap a shot, and then, once I got home, not be able to make out what in particular I was seeing. I think that it is worth continuing to try.

It really is a beautiful trail

We were all pleased with our hike. Afterwards, some of our group went on down to the boat launch area to investigate and swim.

Twin Ridge Boat Launch

This is Philpott Lake, standing on the Twin Ridge Ramp. In the photo below, I’ve labeled the horizon (loosely) with the points of interest. That whole mass on the right is Goose Point Campground. Turkey Island is the only island on Philpott Lake that allows camping. There is an island behind it that does not have a name. Deer Island is somewhere over towards the shore between Salthouse Branch and Turkey Island.

Points of interest standing on Twin Ridge Park boat ramp

There is a placard that gives you this information, a little more accurately. I, honestly, had not paid any attention to the new Philpott Lake Blueway Water Trail went I first heard of it. Every time I saw a photo of Philpott Lake, it was from the same vantage point. I thought that that must be all there was. I was incredibly wrong. There so much more to see. I could take a whole season to see all of the points of interest, maybe more.

The informational placard at Twin Ridge Park

The placard also suggests the following kayaking trips:

Deer Island Kayak Trip – 4 miles round trip – From the ramp, paddle southeast across the mouth of the cove and continue along this shoreline. Deer Island is the landmass on your right as you round the point. The scenic and secluded shores of the largest island on the lake it is only accessed by boat, and the only island on Philpott used for camping. Continue around Deer Island between Turkey Island and the western side of Deer Island.

Rabbit Island – 3.5 miles round trip – The open water of the lake must be crossed to reach the secluded shores of Rabbit Island. It is recommended this trip not be attempted by paddle craft during high wind or heavy motorized boat traffic conditions. Head west from Twin Ridge to make the scenic round trip to Rabbit Island. A compass is always recommended when negotiating large open water. No camping is allowed on Rabbit Island.

Pavilion at Twin Ridge Park

The park itself is beautiful. The pavilion is big, well maintained, and clean. The person emptying the trash bin while I was there ducked out of the shot above.

There is a dedicated swimming area. River shoes might be a good idea for the rocky terrain.

The swimming area at Twin Creek Park

They also have concerts in the park designed for an audience of boaters, kayakers, and paddle boarders. One of our cohort was local to this particular area and he said that it is a very safe area and that the concert series have been well managed.

Boat dock at Twin Ridge Park

There is a lot here. I didn’t expect so many photos from a short hike but, there you are. The dappled light of the path was too challenging for me to come away with any truly good shots but that only means that I need to try again. The launch photos have not been tinkered with for saturation. It is just, honest to God, is that pretty.

A Monument to Booker T. Washington

Virginia has been in the news this year for a violent alt-right rally centered around a statue of Robert E. Lee in Charlottesville.  Public opinion is mixed about how to respond. In fact, public opinion is mixed about exactly what is or what are the problem(s) that need to be addressed.  We have yet to be able to have a responsible dialog as thoughtful adults. Maybe we’ll get there. I hope so.

I don’t have an opinion on the statues so I am not going to offer one.  I do have an observation, however.  In the rural areas of Virginia, there are precious few monuments to anything other than the Civil War and that seems like an oddity to me.  Roanoke is not so bad.  It’s got some great monuments – like the firefighter monument at the Museum of Transportation and the monument to fallen officers in front of the police station.  Greensboro has the Guilford Courthouse National Military Park commemorating the Revolutionary War.  When you get into rural Virginia, however, there are pretty much only Civil War monuments.  It’s as if there have been no notable people or events in the past 150 years, although I am absolutely sure that that is not true.

One notable exception to this is the Booker T. Washington National Monument about an hour north of Henry County on the way to Smith Mountain Lake.  Continue reading A Monument to Booker T. Washington

The Silverbell Trail – A Walk Through Martinsville

I had started this year hoping to really get in some local hikes but, as they say, the best laid plans oft go astray.  I did succeed in finding a fantastic local hiking group connected to the Reynolds Homestead, The Homestead Hikers, and joined them on their inaugural hike for the 2017 year – The Silverbell Trail.

The Silverbell Trail is a short boardwalk trail that joins the Uptown Connection Trail in Martinsville just off of the Dick & Willie Rail Trail and ends, somewhat abruptly, at Church Street, across the street from the YMCA. Even in January, when all of the leaves are on the ground and a coat is required, this is a beautiful trail.   Continue reading The Silverbell Trail – A Walk Through Martinsville