First full day at New River Gorge National Scenic River. The New River may be the oldest river in the U.S. Whitewater rafting and other adrenalin sports attract a lot of young people but for me the coal mining history was the big draw.
What is more amazing? That we walked down 821 steps to the Kaymoor coke processing plant or that the National Park Service maintains all those steps – perfectly. The Kaymoor mine dates back from the 1880s and closed in 1962. It attracted rural Appalachians as well as migrants from Eastern Europe and Italy. They brought over seeds from the Paulownia Tree, the Princess tree that has been invading the Appalachians ever since.
The Kaymoor Miners Trail, only a mile one-way, took us down to the Kaymore coal mine site. There we saw a sign praising “safety”. Your family wants you to work safely, was painted on an overhead entrance way.
The miners went down to the coke processing plant by the river in a haulage, a little car that ran up and down on a rail. Today’s visitors walk down and back up on wooden steps. That’s when I stopped thinking about the miners and started praising the National Park Service. The steps were well designed and maintained. There was a secure bannister on both sides and periodic landings for you to rest.
Who are they maintaining these steps for? For the four of us, obviously. On a beautiful fall Saturday, Lenny, my son, granddaughter and I were the only ones on this trail. At the bottom, an old coke processing plant had been stabilized. That’s coke processed from coal, not coke as in the soft drink. Coke burns very hot and was used to smelt iron.
There was no way the park was going to restore the building, shown above or rebuild it. Time had taken its toll on the artifacts. There was a water tank, remains of railroad tracks, remains of the haulage apparatus and other metal bits that only an expert would be able to identify.
And then we walked back up. Walking up was easier because we weren’t worried about slipping on wet leaves. My son and nine-year old granddaughter were bonding on on the way back up.
This only took a couple of hours. Then we walked to a view on Long Point where we got a great view of the New River Bridge across the gorge.
It was scenic – yes – but not as amazing as the mine and boardwalk.