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Allegheny Trail started in a parking lot

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The idea behind the creation of West Virginia's longest footpath -- the 330-mile-long Allegheny Trail -- can be traced to a late-night conversation in a Charleston parking lot.

"Sometime in about 1972, I was attending an Izaak Walton League meeting in Charleston, where I was living at the time, when I met Bob Tabor, who had recently moved here from Virginia, where he had been a member of the Appalachian Trail Club," said Nick Lozano, who now lives in Huntington.

"After the meeting, we spent two hours in the parking lot of the old United Fuels building, talking about trails," Lozano recalled. "My dream was to give West Virginia a place where citizens would enjoy the experience of a long-distance hiking trail without leaving the state. Bob's dream was to establish a Southern West Virginia connection to the Appalachian Trail."

Tabor figured the best way to connect with the Appalachian Trail was to build a trail in Monroe County up the west side of Peters Mountain, where the iconic long-distance trail follows its crest -- also the Virginia-West Virginia border -- for 12 miles.

"I said, 'How about starting another trail heading north from the point where the Appalachian Trail veers off the mountain and into Virginia?'" Tabor recalled. "Bob said, 'That's a good idea!' and we started working on the Allegheny Trail from that point on."

Starting in 1973, Lozano and Tabor, now 94 and living in Charleston, started poring over maps to identify possible corridors in which the long-haul trail could be built.

The following year, they were among the five people who signed the articles of incorporation to form the West Virginia Scenic Trails Association. The other incorporators were Charles Carlson, Bruce Bond and Arthur Foley.

"Our objectives were to develop the Allegheny Trail and promote hiking in West Virginia," Lozano said. "We wanted people to get off their duffs, hike the trail and see what they had to lose if they weren't careful. Before long, we had members from Morgantown, Elkins and Charleston involved in getting a route for the trail established. Most of the work at that time was connecting log roads and trails that already existed."

The next phase of trail development involved convincing state and federal land managers to let the ALT become part of their trail systems, "and to fight the bureaucracy that was resisting it," Lozano said. "Bob Mathis, in the upper management of the state parks system, got stuck with us and became an ally."

Bob Tabor handled most of the politicking involved in building the trail, Lozano said. "He was a real sparkplug. He developed a close relationship with Robert C. Byrd and, for a while, had a desk in a corner of Byrd's Charleston office he used to contact politicians and keep the pot stirred."

As the trail began to take shape, WVSTA members considered developing the Allegheny as an inn-to-inn trail. "It was almost possible, but not quite," Lozano said. Instead, association members began building a series of campsites and Appalachian Trail-style shelters along the Allegheny.

"The concept of a long-distance hiking trail was new to West Virginia," Lozano said. As sections of the trail were being built, "about the only people we would run into were local hunters," Lozano said. "When they'd come across us working on a footpath going up the side of a mountain, they'd get these puzzled looks on their faces. They couldn't believe we were out there building a trail just to enjoy nature."

Lozano said his interest in long-distance hiking dates back to the late 1950s, when he was an Explorer Scout, Post 4.

"Our adviser, John Douglas McGrew would take us down into the Smokies, where we would hike for a week or more," he said. "When we drove all the way back to West Virginia, I began to realize it was a damned shame we had to go all the way to North Carolina to have an experience like that."

Lozano said the nearly complete trail "is a shining example of what volunteers can do if they have a vision. And we developed lifetime friendships working on the trail."

Lozano said he is happy to see the trail nearing completion after 40 years of work.

"We never had a timeline for it," he said.

Lozano, who has hiked over most of the trail during scouting, building and maintenance projects through the years, looks forward to its completion.

"A through hike is on my bucket list," he said.

Reach Rick Steelhammer at rsteelhammer@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5169.


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