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Hikers to mark 50th year for unique backpack trail

Oct. 11, 2012 @ 12:20 AM

Exactly 50 years ago, local Boy Scout Charlie Dundas and about a dozen of his fellow scouts saw the need for a local backpacking trail.

Fifty years later, the life-long Scout, leader and veteran trail builder in Huntington's Troop 42 is still sharing his dirt path of a dream -- the 32-mile trail that runs from Ona to the Kanawha River cutting through eastern Cabell, Mason and Putnam counties from the confluence of the Mud and Guyandotte rivers, to Fraziers Bottom on the Kanawha River.

This weekend, more than 150 through-hikers from around the region and another 100 or more volunteers will celebrate the unique trail which, with the exceptions of public roads, is located entirely on private property, making it a rare long trail in the Tri-State not located on state or federal land.

A couple hundred more hikers will walk sections of the trail including folks attending Saturday's Fall Cub Family Camp at Camp Arrowhead where they will hike a small portion on a day loop hike.

And at least a half dozen brave souls, including Jamie Dzierzak, a 26-year-old trail builder who has been hiking the trail since he was 10, will attempt to hike the 32 miles in one day.

Just a few of the highlights along the way include the restored, historic one-room Blackjack Schoolhouse, bisections with the former James River and Kanawha turnpikes, a 230-foot-long tunnel under the new four-lane near the trail's end and three new bridges including a 50-foot-cable-suspension bridge at Bear Hollow.

The 50th anniversary hike registration fee is 50 cents -- the same as it was in 1962 when the trail first opened.

Like in years past, this year's hike is broken into three chunks. Friday, most folks will hike five or six miles before staying overnight at Camp Arrowhead.

Saturday is about a 10-mile hike to the historic Blackjack Schoolhouse that was built in 1883 and is located just over the county line in southern Mason County.

And Sunday, it is about 15 more miles on to Fraziers Bottom, along the Kanawha River in Putnam County.

Speaking by phone from Round Mountain in Virginia, where he and his trail-building crew, Tri-State Company, Inc., are building more than 50 miles of multi-purpose trails with the U.S. Forest Service, Dundas said it truly is hard to believe that it has been 50 years since they dreamed up the idea for the unique trail.

"Every time we cross one of these check points or milestones we are amazed," Dundas said. "Somebody posted on our Facebook page something to the effect that it is amazing this venture has not only survived but it is flourishing after 50 years. We have more people using the trail today than there has ever been, and the trail is in better shape than it has ever been in its entire 50-year history. That is the result of a lot of community involvement from landowners and hikers and mountain bikers and volunteers and scouts and all kinds of people making it happen."

Dundas, whose company built the three bridges on the trail and got an additional $75,000 grant to build two more bridges and do additional maintenance, said the credit goes to the community who has embraced the trail in new and exciting ways.

Mountain bikers Michael Boyes, Dwayne Walters and others have in the past few years kept tires on the trail and rustled volunteers to help keep the varied terrain trail clear.

In the past two years, the West Virginia Trail Runners Association and such local runners as Cory Richardson, Chris Kyle, Daniel Jarvis and others have helped organize the KT50, a 50K race that drew a couple hundred runners in July including more than 80 that came from as far away as Oregon and Texas to run on the trail.

And for years, scout leaders such as Ed Dzierzak, of Troop 762, and Mark Freeman, scoutmaster of Troop 92 out of Ona, have literally logged thousands of miles on the KT getting area troops training for the rugged two-week Philmont Trek backpack trip at the Boy Scout's ranch in the mountains of New Mexico.

All of those volunteers were called upon after the late June derecho knocked down at least 100 trees along the 32-mile trail. Volunteer crews went out and cleared the entire trail in time for the KT50K.

Although the trail is mostly used by Scouts and the general public from the Tri-State, people from nearly all of the 50 states have hiked the trail, as have hikers from Mexico, England, Canada and Scotland.

Dundas, who is approaching 70, said he hopes to be able to finish his mileage on the KT, a trail that he has walked in its entirety every year for 50 years.

"One of my life goals was to reach the 50th, and if the creeks don't rise in the next couple days I will be there," Dundas said of this weekend's hike. "Since it was built, every year of my life I have been able to in the course of a year get over the entire thing. We have been gone and working a lot this year so I am close."

For all info on the KT 50th Anniversary Hike, go to the Tri-State Area Council's website www.tsacbsa.org.