CHARLESTON, W.Va. - Gardener extraordinaire and all-around nature enthusiast Joan Steven will be leading tours of the Sunrise Carriage Trail starting March 21. I recently joined Joan, a Charleston resident, on a very pleasant stroll down the historic and beautiful path. It brought back memories from my childhood when we would walk there after visiting Sunrise Museum.
"The Sunrise Carriage Trail is a hidden treasure near downtown Charleston that is worth looking at and walking on, even a short distance," Joan told me. "I always get a feeling of being in a secluded wooded area, when I walk the .67 miles from the Sunrise building to the bottom at the beginning of Bridge Road. Since there are no signs, you have to be a sleuth to find the trail."
Joan gives these tips for first-time visitors: If you enter from Myrtle Road, walk on the driveway for the law firm Farmer, Cline and Campbell, and immediately turn left. Approaching from the bottom, after crossing the South Side Bridge from downtown, turn right immediately after the ramp and go down a short, one-lane road to park your car.
This flat area was recently donated to the city by Richard and Robert Hess, brothers who gave the land in memory of their parents, Helen and Morton Hess. That space is now being cleared, and Joan said ideas for a large, circular bench and a learning area for children are being discussed.
There's a small waterfall on the right near the bottom of the trail that recently was uncovered. It had been hidden for years by weeds, vines and fallen trees. It's a beautiful hint of many features that will eventually be uncovered and brought to light.
I remember a long-ago job on then-Justice Row, the road that runs parallel to the ramp of the South Side Bridge. I'm glad to see the plans that will bring beauty to the place where those old structures once stood.
Right now on the trail, the red-twig dogwoods stand out against the stark landscape, but there are hints of other plants ready to make their spring debut.
The spice bush (Lindera benzoin) and flowering quince (Rosaceae chaenomeles) are two flowering shrubs that will be blooming in March. These shrubs are a short walk from the top of the trail.
There are about 11 acres included in the trail area, and Joan laughed when she said the group that oversees the work is on an 11-year plan. They hope to remove the invasive English ivy, poison ivy, tree of heaven, knotweed and other invasive species one acre at a time until it is all restored to its natural beauty.
There are walls that need to be repaired and other structural elements to deal with, but in many places the ivy must be removed before any other work can be done. Large stone outcroppings are appearing where once only ivy could be seen.