Fall is a really great time of year to be out on a trail, any trail, but especially the Dahlgren Trail. I’m seeing many notable things on my frequent visits: more cars at our parking areas, and more walkers and cyclists. Dog lovers have found the trail too; we give thanks to our wonderful trail users for keeping all pets on a leash. I also saw several local scout groups completing a 20-mile hike for their hiking merit badge!
We were recently awarded a grant to improve our parking at two parking areas: the Comorn Road and Indiantown Road crossings. Many thanks to our friends at the Fredericksburg Community Foundation for giving us the opportunity to make these critical improvements which will lead to increased access for our beloved trail. We’re very appreciative of our trail users who let us know about conditions on the trail that need attention. Believe it or not, the most reliable way for us to know about a fallen tree is through an email or Facebook note from a trail user. We generally see up to five downed trees a month on the trail. Our chain saw gang (aka: The Flying Lumberjacks) can get it cleared pretty quickly – if you see an issue on the trail, reach out to us!
We’re also thrilled about upcoming events on the trail! A new King George Race Series will be inaugurated in 2021. The races to be in the series are the Dahlgren Trail Winter Half-Marathon in February, the Sheetz-to-Sheetz Run in March, the 3H Half-Marathon in August, and the Howlin’ Coyote 10k at Caledon State Park in October. We want to give a huge acknowledgement and thanks to Kristen Loescher of Arsenal Events, Justyn Cox, Friends of Caledon, and Chris Chalkley for spearheading this initiative. Runners can sign up now for the series or for individual races at arsenal-events.com.
When we’re out for a walk, run or ride, we don’t always think about the topography and hydrology of the trail. The trail, while mostly level, rises slightly going east to west. The rise starts at about mile 7, and continues on a slight grade until approximately mile marker 4 where it crosses the “ridge” separating the Potomac and the Rappahannock watersheds - King George’s own “continental divide.”
There are a lot of streams, both perennial and intermittent, that flow under the trail. They feed into Lamb’s Creek flowing south to the Rappahannock, and into Peppermill and Williams Creeks flowing eventually to the Potomac. The streams flow under the trail through culverts or pipes. Ian Littlejohn has started to catalog the location and status of these culverts and pipes, and he has been noting which ones need clearing. It’s our responsibility to keep the culverts and pipes clear so the streams and rainfall water can flow freely. In addition to the pipes and culverts, the ditches alongside of the trail sometimes become clogged and blocked in a few places, so we need to get those cleared out too. If you’d like to help with this job, consider joining our maintenance crew.
And finally, we owe our thanks to an Eagle Scout candidate, Gary Garay, who was finished replacing the canvas roof on our vintage RF&P caboose. His was a big job and was much needed to maintain the water-tightness of the car. We’ll have a more complete report on Gary’s project in an upcoming newsletter.
As most of you know, the trail depends on volunteers and donations to keep things going. Anything you can chip in is appreciated. If you haven’t, please consider donating to our “Treasure the Trail” fundraiser, in which proceeds will go right back into tangible trail improvements so that the Dahlgren Railroad Heritage Trail is an enjoyable, accessible, and healthy place for everyone, year-round.
It is hard to beat the nice crisp weather this time of year! I hope to see you on the trail sometime!
Each March, the Dahlgren Railroad Heritage Trail hosts the Sheetz-to-Sheetz Trail Run, an untimed, relaxed event benefiting local children in need. As its name implies, the course begins and ends at Sheetz convenience stores. It starts at the Sheetz across from King George Middle School, traverses Route 3 (with an escort by the King George Sherriff’s Office), and connects to the trail at the Comorn Rd. trailhead near mile marker 4. The course then follows the trail all the way to the Dahlgren Sheetz, 14 miles in total.
Just before COVID-19 changed the world forever in March 2020, 150 runners from as far away as Wilmington, North Carolina, took on the Sheetz-to-Sheetz challenge. Fueled largely by word-of-mouth, the event sold out quickly and more than doubled in size with strong representation from northern Virginia. Of note to friends of the trail, the event introduced many local and not-so-local residents to the trail -- according to a post-run survey, just over half of participants had never visited the DRHT before. Another 21% had visited the trail before but had not experienced the section from mile marker 4 to the eastern terminus. They must have liked what they saw because the same survey showed a very high Net Promoter Score (86), and 100% of respondents reported feeling “extremely safe” or “very safe” on the course.
The event is intentionally designed to stray from the typical half marathon formula, striving to be unique and quirky and pushing a fun, non-competitive vibe. For starters, there’s no race clock – participants are encouraged to take their time, enjoy the trail and bond with other runners. To further encourage breaks, the mid-trail camp site was turned into a “Party Zone,” complete with a roaring campfire, s’mores, hot cider, candies, other snacks and even a hammock in case any runners really want to take a break. Boy Scouts and King George HS cheerleader volunteers ensured runners got the encouragement and support they needed from the aid station. Fun signage along the course and social media blasts leading up to the event also helped keep the mood decidedly light. Upon finishing, runners received a generous “swag bag” courtesy of Sheetz. Instead of the typical race medal and t-shirt, Sheetz-to-Sheetz finishers earned an insulated stainless-steel travel mug, Sheetz snacks, and vouchers for Sheetz Made-to-Order (MTO) food and drink. After partaking of complimentary coffee, runners then boarded a King George County school bus for the trip back to the start line parking area.
There was one serious component to the event – the charity benefit. $2,100 was donated to assist local children in need via the Sheetz employee-led charity, Sheetz-for-the-Kidz. Those funds are being spent this holiday season to buy toys, clothes, and necessities for up to 48 underprivileged children right here in the King George area. A donation was also made to Friends of the Dahlgren Railroad Heritage Trail to help with trail maintenance and programs.
For many runners, the 2020 event marked the unexpected last race of the year as event related COVID restrictions started shortly thereafter. In-person racing continues, albeit with significant modifications to ensure social distancing and related requirements. After studying best practices and Virginia’s evolving event guidelines, Sheetz-to-Sheetz Trail Run organizers have planned a 2021 event that’s not only safe but features many significant improvements and upgrades. Scheduled for Saturday, March 13th, the 2021 event expands to 200 runners, features a new virtual run option, offers t-shirts, and includes an emcee and improved signage. The event is also part of a new King George Trail Series organized by Arsenal Events. You’ll hear more about this exciting new series soon as it brings together several DRHT and Caledon State Park events: The Dahlgren Trail Half, the Sheetz-to-Sheetz Trail Run, the 3H (Hazy, Hot & Humid) Trail Half, and the Howlin’ Coyote 10K.
For more information on the Sheetz-to-Sheetz Trail Run including hundreds of photos from the 2020 event, please visit www. sheetz2sheetz.com.
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