WVU professor says trail use up, thanks to pandemic

WVU professor says trail use up, thanks to pandemic
Hikers trek into a spruce forest in the West Virginia highlands near Spruce Knob. (Photo: David Marcu)

A researcher says exercising on local rail trails has doubled during the pandemic and is safe as long as people use best practices to mitigate the spread of COVID-19.


According to the trail counter data, trail use at the trail's Van Voorhis trailhead is up 101 percent, and trail use on the Mellons Chapel-Deckers Creek Trail is up 124 percent when compared to the same period last year.

“Access to safe places for physical activity is critical now more than ever,” says Christiaan Abildso, associate professor at the university's School of Public Health.

Abildso also serves on the Mon River Trails Conservancy Board of Directors, which provided him access to the data.


“There’s been no other place to exercise, with gyms and some parks being closed. We’re all Zoom’d out. Our exercise routines are destroyed, and people are tired of being inside.”

While Abildso couldn’t be more supportive of outdoor physical activity, he points to these guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Rails-to-Trails Conservancy:

  • All users should travel on the right and pass on the left, just like when driving on a highway.
  • Bicycle riders should slow and sound their bell and/or give an audible ‘on your left’ warning before passing as far from the other user as is possible.
  • Runners should do the same as bicyclists (with the exception of the bell, of course).
    Walkers should wear a mask.
  • Slower users should anticipate being passed by another trail user at some point.
  • Avoid trail use in groups if at all possible.
  • If in a group, users should avoid traveling side-by-side as much as possible, especially in high traffic or narrower sections of the trail.
  • Water and restroom facilities are closed, so bring plenty of water and some hand sanitizer.

Another thing to keep in mind—it’s sometimes best to take the road less traveled, he said.

“There are 50 miles of rail-trail, so try a low-traffic area if you want to avoid contact, such as the sections north of the Van Voorhis trailhead south of the Uffington trailhead or east of the Mellons Chapel trailhead,” he advised.


Abildso says he hopes that rail-trail use, and outdoor activity, in general, continues to climb, given its effect on one’s well-being.

“Physical activity is critical to our mental and physical health, and that benefit is amplified by being outside while active,” he said.

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