Scenic Town Has Many Ties To Old Railway

Roll into West Jefferson, N.C., and you wonder: What if? What if the old Virginia-Carolina Railway had not been broken up and lost in time?
What if this place looked more like the Old Dominion?
"If they had done it like they did in Virginia, with that bike trail, it would have been great,"said West Jefferson's Calvin Green.
In Virginia, from Abingdon to Whitetop to the North Carolina border, this old railroad - later part of the Norfolk & Western line - has been preserved today as the Virginia Creeper Trail.
That logging line was once called the "Virginia Creeper Train." And, at one time, it ran from Abingdon to West Jefferson, an Ashe County, N.C., town that boasts a bustling downtown district, including an arts scene with 13 murals on various buildings.
West Jefferson also has its own cheese factory. So ... what if this train had become a trail here, too?
"My gut tells me it would have changed the dynamics of the community," said Mike Everhart, the owner of Ashe County Cheese.
Today, you can still see parts of the old railroad bed in West Jefferson. Mysteriously, a cardboard sign nailed to a telephone pole says R/R - with no explanation - and points to the rail bed.
Yet, nearby, another sign marks this level, grassy area as "PRIVATE PROPERTY."
Several yards from here, near the town's new Backstreet Park, you can still see the old West Jefferson train depot, now used for storage by Green, 51, the owner of W.J. Hardware on the town's Main Street.
Green bought the depot in the mid-1970s, just as the trains had quit running on the line. Once painted white with green trim, like so many other depots, it is now bright red.
Right on the old line, you'll also find an open-air pavilion, made to look like a railway building. It houses the Ashe County Farmers Market, held on Wednesdays and Saturdays. And it's a place that made me wonder again.
In Abingdon, the Virginia Creeper Trail has been imaginatively extended in recent years to run behind buildings to reach the Abingdon Farmers Market near Depot Square. What if a pedestrian could make their way from one farmers market to another on this trail?
"Oh, wouldn't that have been great?"asked Carol Dodson, chairman of the West Jefferson Tourism Development Authority.
As it stands now, just beyond West Jefferson's farmers market, what was once the rail bed dead-ends in Backstreet Park.
"It would have been amazing," mused a West Jefferson artist, Stephen Shoemaker. "Of course, all the property went back to the original landowners."
Shoemaker, 63, considers it's a "shame" that the train line never became a trail.
"The prettiest part of the trail is the North Carolina side," Shoemaker said. "But, what would have been even better ... is if we had kept the train."

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