It took more than 3 decades, but the dream of a trail connecting Christiansburg and Blacksburg to the Jefferson Forest National Park was finally realized on June 20th, 2019 when the Town of Blacksburg officially opened the last leg of the Blacksburg portion of the Huckleberry Trail. A ribbon cutting and special celebration was held at Blacksburg’s Rising Silo Brewery. On hand to celebrate the community’s achievement were Leslie Hager-Smith, Mayor of Blacksburg; Dean Crane, Director of Parks and Recreation; and Bill Ellenbogen, founder and President of Friends of the Huckleberry Trail.
The Huckleberry Trail has deep roots and a long history of providing transportation between Blacksburg and Christiansburg. It began as the Virginia Anthracite Coal and Rail Company in 1902 to transport coal from the Merrimac Mine (now the location of the Coal Miners’ Heritage Park) to the Cambria Depot in Christiansburg. In 1904, the railway was extended to Blacksburg (the depot was located at approximately the site of the current Montgomery/Floyd Regional Library) and a contract was made between the coal company and Virginia Tech to transport cadets to the school.
On September 15, 1904, the first passenger train rolled into Blacksburg. The regular schedule at that time was four daily trains, with three of the trips carrying mail. Passengers could make the trip from the Cambria Depot to Blacksburg for 50 cents with baggage, or 35 cents without, and a round trip could be purchased for 60 cents without bags.
A week later (September 21), the train brought the first round of cadets to Blacksburg’s Virginia Polytechnic Institute and University. The Station was soon nicknamed “Huckleberry Crossing” because when the train would stall, passengers could step off the train and pass time picking the abundance of huckleberries (wild blueberries) growing alongside the tracks. The name stuck, and “Huckleberry Crossing” was soon painted in large letters on the Blacksburg depot. From 1912 to 1922, the Huckleberry was Blacksburg’s main link to surrounding areas, but by the early 1930’s, fewer students were riding the train because of the long wait. With the use of automobiles increasing, the Huckleberry’s passenger service was cut to twice a day in the 1940’s and then once a day in the 1950’s.
On July 25, 1958, the Huckleberry made its last steam run. The service was converted from steam to electrical power and operated until August 9, 1958. In the summer of 1966, the Blacksburg depot was closed and the rails fell into disuse and disrepair. But that was not going to be the end of the Huckleberry.
From Rail to Trail
Thanks to the vision of J.C. Garrett of the horticulture department at Virginia Tech, the Huckleberry would not be lost. In 1966, he and others worked to transform the train path into a nature trail and walking path covering about one mile between the Blacksburg Library and Airport Road. This nature trail would be the start of what would later become known as the Huckleberry Trail.
The vision grew over time, along with a recognition of the value such trails bring to a community, from economic to cultural. As Bill Ellenbogen said in his recent interview for the News Messenger community newspaper, “Our goal was to stretch the trail from downtown Christiansburg in the south to the Jefferson National Forest north of Blacksburg. We wanted more than just a trail, but indeed a linear park. What that means is a series of parks and amenities that the trail would tie together.” That idea eventually led to the formation of the non-profit corporation, Friends of the Huckleberry Trail.
About Friends of the Huckleberry Trail
In 1989 under Blacksburg Mayor Roger Hedgepeth, work was begun to extend the Huckleberry Trail to 7.5 miles, with an 3.5 additional miles on the Huckleberry North Trail. As a part of an update to Blacksburg’s comprehensive development plan, a committee was formed in 1991 in cooperation with Montgomery County, the Town of Christiansburg, and Virginia Tech. Under the leadership of Bill Ellenbogen, the committee evolved into a non-profit corporation, the Friends of the Huckleberry, Inc. The guidance and financial help of the Friends of the Huckleberry and the local governments helped extend the Trail to about 6 miles in the 1990’s. It later was extended to the Christiansburg Recreation Center on Cambria Street and there are hopes to extend it to Downtown Christiansburg within a few years.
The Friends’ goal of promoting and expanding the Huckleberry Trail has helped raise over $5 million for trail expansion through federal and state grants, funds from the local governments, and from corporations and private citizens. Corporate sponsors of the trail include Corning, Montgomery Regional Hospital, the National Bank of Blacksburg, East Coasters Cycling & Fitness, the Hethwood Foundation, HHHunt, and many others. A major donation from Renva Knowles helped fund the construction of a pedestrian overpass for the trail at Route 114 Christiansburg near the New River Valley Mall.
In 2019, the Huckleberry North section of the Trail was completed, with a Trail system of over 14 miles now connecting the Towns of Blacksburg and Christiansburg to each other and the Jefferson National Forest. Friends of the Huckleberry is continuing to work on improving amenities and landscaping along the Trail and in getting a major bridge funded and constructed over Prices Fork Road in Blacksburg that will enhance the safety and usability of the Trail.
- “Huckleberry Line.” Virginia Tech Magazine. Volume 14, Number 3. Spring 1992.
- “Bill Ellenbogen, a catalyst for the Huckleberry Trail” by Michael Abraham. Montgomery County News Messenger. July 17, 2019.