As a way to connect the past to the present, the U.S. Forest Service Greenbrier Ranger District in Bartow recently embarked on a journey back to a time when small logging towns lined what is now the West Fork Trail in Durbin.
The “Your Forest History” project is a collection of 18 signs along the West Fork trail and road. Each sign is a history lesson of the small logging towns north of Durbin, as well as the logging history of Pocahontas County.
Greenbrier District Ranger Jack Tribble said the project was a passion piece which brought together the forest, historians and local students.
“We’ve just had a keen interest in getting the local history of the forest and really talking about it with the public,” he said. “I don’t feel like even the local residents know much about the history of these old towns. We went along the West Fork Trail and the West Fork Road and looked at all the towns – Durbin, Olive, May – all those little towns that were big towns when they were timbering from the 1890s to about 1915.”
The forest service used funding from a 2015 Secure Rural Schools grant to make the signs with the help of historian Robert C. Whetsell, Appalachian Forest Heritage Area AmeriCorps Rebecca Conway, Pocahontas County High School carpentry students, forest service recreation technician lead Nicole Sattler and seasonal staff Drew Caloccia and Hunter Samples.
“Rebecca helped design the signs, and Rob Whetsell –a historian for the forest – looked at all the dates, went through all the pieces, and Rebecca then had old photos of these towns and put it all together,” Tribble said. “The key is that we really wanted to work with the local school, so we worked with Duane Gibson and the carpentry class.
“Pocahontas County High School played a huge role in this,” he continued. “We really could not have done this project without them. That’s really important to us, to have the local kids involved with their own history and building these kiosks.”
Some of the research proved difficult as many of the small towns disappeared after the logging companies moved on, but local historians were able to dig up enough information to include on the signs.
“Rob Whetsell knows so much about this region and even wrote a paper on it for his graduate studies,” Conway said. “I know he sometimes had trouble with the little towns. I think Olive, in particular, gave him trouble. Some of the towns like Durbin and Glady are a little bit easier.”
The trail and road each have nine double-sided signs with photos and information about the towns, life during that time period and a few tidbits and vocabulary words related to the logging industry.
“We decided to do signs for both the trail and the road,” Sattler said. “There’s a smaller set of these signs on the trail and then the big signs are on the road.”
The signs have been installed along the 22 miles of the trail and road, giving a glimpse into what the area looked like a long time ago.
“‘It’s Your History’ is the title for all of these, so again, this is about Pocahontas County, and that’s what we want,” Tribble said. “The school kids built these things, we installed them, and we want the school to be engaged and the local history folks to be engaged.”
West Fork Trail and Road are located in Durbin off of Staunton Parkersburg Turnpike. Going north, turn right off the Turnpike onto Highland Street. On Highland Street, take the first left onto West Fork Road. The trail runs parallel to the road on its left.