High Bridge Trail State Park in Southside Virginia is a rail trail converted from a railway line, last belonging to Norfolk Southern and having originated as a portion of the South Side Rail Road.
Norfolk Southern’s last train crossed High Bridge on October 26, 2004. Just two years later, in December 2006, the company wonderfully donated 31 miles of the abandoned rail line to the Virginia State Park system. Now a state park, with the High Bridge as its centerpiece, the shared-use path for non-motorized traffic – pedestrians, bicyclists, and horseback riders – preserves and protects trail resources while helping educate trail users about local and national history.
Like 90 percent of its visitors, we came to Farmville, VA, specifically to ride the High Bridge Trail, or at least, its most spectacular portion, the four miles from Farmville to the High Bridge, and back.
The High Bridge Trail is 31 miles long and ideally suited for hiking, bicycling and horseback riding. Once a rail bed, the trail is wide, level and generally flat. Its finely crushed limestone surface make it easy to ride and enjoy.
The park’s most spectacular feature is the majestic High Bridge, which carries the trail 125 feet above the Appomattox River and is more than 2,400 feet long. It is the longest recreational bridge in Virginia and among the longest in the United States. It’s worth going for the views alone — and the trail developers kindly provided several stopping points on the bridge itself, with benches, for riders to contemplate and enjoy the view.
Retaining the 3% grade of the original rail line, the rail trail features picnic, parking and toilet facilities as well as large oak trees, telegraph poles erected in the 1900s, remnants of the railroad’s signal system, and Norfolk Southern’s original cement mile markers.
In addition to the sheer beauty of the surrounding countryside, the High Bridge is historically significant. During the Civil War, both Union and Confederate forces attempted to destroy the bridge to hamper troops on the opposing side. Confederates succeeded in setting the bridge on fire on April 6, 1865, to prevent its crossing by the Union. When Union troops arrived, 3 of the bridge’s 21 wooden spans had burned and a 4th span was on fire. Union engineers successfully cut the 4th span to prevent further destruction of the bridge.
After the Battle of High Bridge and his surrender at Appomattox later that month, Robert E. Lee told the very men who had destroyed the bridge – including civil engineer Major General William Mahone – to go home and start its rebuilding. Engineers began building temporary spans to replace those that had been destroyed; the South Side Rail Road company eventually finished the work and rail traffic resumed in September 1865.
Know before you go: If you don’t want to bring your own bike, or you decide you’d like to explore the High Bridge Rail Trail out of Farmville on the spur of the moment, you can rent bikes from the Outdoor Adventure Store, formerly called High Bridge Bikes, which is located literally across the street from the trail in Farmville. For more information about bike rentals, refer to the store’s web site at www.theoutdooradventurestore.com. Getting there: There are multiple access points, including in Farmville, about 4 miles away from the High Bridge, as well as less than a mile away from the High Bridge, in the state park (940 River Rd, Farmville, VA 23901), although actually, the entire rail trail is the state park.
Access points where there’s parking:
Rice’s Depot Road, 1/4-mile off U.S. 460 at Rice, near trail milepost 142
Camp Paradise Rd., 3.2 miles off 460/Aspen Hill Rd. in Rice, near trail milepost 144
River Road, three miles off N. Main St. in Farmville, near trail milepost 146
Osborne Road, 1/4-mile off N. Main St. in Farmville, near trail milepost 149
Municipal lots in Farmville where the trail intersects with Main St. near trail milepost 150
Tuggle Road, off U.S. 460 and near U.S. 15 North, near trail milepost 156
Prospect Road, off U.S. 460 at Prospect, near trail milepost 161
Elam, off U.S. 460 at Sulpher Spring Rd., near trail milepost 164
Heights School Rd., off U.S. Business 460 near Pamplin and trail milepost 168