Sunday, residents and students alike were out enjoying this city and navigating it via
Caperton Trail. It was a rather idyllic scene reminiscent of a time when America was safe
and carefree and rivers were clean, lazy channels that connected us so that we knew them
intimately and visited them in solitude. Now, a Mother with a baby carriage venturing
way out from downtown along the old B & O Railroad must have felt assured of her
safety. Two boys jumping into the Monongahela River from an isolated dock wouldn’t
have been allowed to go there over ten years ago, but from the tressle atop the
embankment, we waved down at them. "Hi!" they replied. Splash! All was well again
downtown in merry Morgantown.
Caperton Trail is the downtown riverfront rail/trail link Morgantown has built its entire
municipal revitalization program around. It is incorporated into the Hazel Ruby McQuain
Park and Amphitheater on the water (site of free concerts and festivals), new upscale
residential, business, and University complexes, at least one new hotel (so far), several
restaurant relocations and a few new ones, the restored Train Depot and Wharf District,
bike rentals, and the list goes on. Restored historic structures interspersed with attractive
new glass-brick architecture create an interesting riverfront community. For long
distance travelers, this is an important link for all their needs, either on the trail or a block
Eight miles of pavement connect at each end to the larger rails-to-trails system. From the
Water Treatment Plant on the southern city limit to Osage on the northern end, bikers find
smooth sailing all along the Monongahela River, followed by more miles of limestone
and packed sand. The Train Depot in the Park is the trailhead, and just a few doors south
is a bike rental. A little further, the restored Wharf District offers an entrance to Deckers
Creek Trail that runs all the way to Reedsville in Preston County. Only three miles of this
second trail is paved (through Morgantown) before it changes to limestone. All surfaces
counted, 27 miles or more can be executed without exiting the trail.
A good stop for solitude and the shade of an old-growth forest is WVU’s Core
Arboretum, just north of all the downtown development along the trail. Anyone who
wants to drive there would be advised to start slowly down the hill from the
Coliseum toward downtown and look for a place to pull off to the right. If you miss the
first, another one further down shortens the steep walk down to the river. Ninety acres of
marked specimen trees and plants are beautiful with clean undergrowth. A small old coal
mine is evident, but filled by the University. I’ve always found the Arboretum deserted,
but classes do venture out here. Even for one used to old forests, this one is a treat in the
middle of the city. Three miles of walking paths afford benches, and at the top is WVU’s
Evansdale Campus with people-mover (PRT) stations (50 cents) and Trolley stops.
Trolley has bike racks and takes riders to points of interest to them both in town and to
outlying areas, including all trail points. For schedules, see BusRide.
Life is changed in Morgantown. I have read that many businesses and jobs have been created by this new pristine community along the water, and I wonder why other small cities are so slow in constructing their rail/trail links. My hometown, for example, a ways upstream, has contributed nothing to the rail/trail system, which is finished to the city limits on both sides. Bikers have to get off the trail and ride for several miles through busy, congested streets breathing exhaust fumes from trucks and stopping at traffic lights when they could be sailing along the Monongahela River, which runs straight through the middle of town. A river runs through it, but a trail doesn't! Only a few blocks from the river, I have to put my bike on the car and drive several miles to the outskirts of town, so . . . I keep on going . . . to Morgantown! Too bad for merchants in my city, that's where I spend my money.