The warm weather is finally returning to our area. With it comes the opportunity to get out of your house and get into nature. In this mini-series, I’ll be visiting semi-local parks and giving you the summary, so you can plan your next one-tank day trip.
Tomlinson Run State Park flew under my radar for 39 years, I’m afraid. How could I not have known there was a state park — something West Virginia has plenty of — up in Hancock County? I usually envision the state parks map beginning south of Ohio County. If you’ve known about Tomlinson Run for ages, you’re one step ahead of me.
Where & How to Find Tomlinson Run State Park
Tomlinson Run is just a short jaunt from the Ohio River, and it takes about an hour to reach the 1,398-acre park from Wheeling. Take Route 7 north to Steubenville, cross the bridge on U.S. 22 east, then head north on Route 2. Route 8 takes you to through New Manchester, W.Va., to the turnoff. It isn’t difficult to find, even without a GPS system. The park’s address is 84 Osage Road, New Manchester, WV 26056.
Things To Do
I spent 30 minutes driving around to get an overview. The western half of the park is a wilderness area threaded by some moderately difficult trails and Tomlinson Run itself, while the eastern half of the park is more civilized. The Run is dammed to create a lake dotted with benches and picnic tables. The land slopes gently down to the water, and during warmer months you can rent a paddleboat or a rowboat at the snack stand and docks. This year, the West Virginia Department of Natural Resources has stocked Tomlinson Run Lake with golden trout. You’ll also catch bass, catfish and sunfish. On the day I visited, the fishermen were out in force.
Heading east through the park, you’ll pass yurts and rental cabins of different sizes, some quite large. Then, you’ll come to a family-friendly picnic area with a large parking lot. In addition to several shelters and bathroom facilities, there’s a playground and a mini-golf course along the run. Just up the road, near the swimming pool and waterslide, I found the park office. It’s small, but there are human beings inside happy to answer questions.
When I visit a new park, I generally walk into the office and look dumb until somebody takes pity on me. Park rangers love to talk to visitors and offer suggestions. I saw a total of three rangers patrolling the area during my time at the park, and I asked the one in the office where I should hike. He asked me what kind of hiking I wanted to do (I said moderately difficult) and went over the trail guide with me.
There are roughly eight hiking trails in the park that range from easy to moderate. I wanted to start with Beech Trail, a moderate, 35-minute hike that ran from one hilltop down to the run and then back up along a ridge. However, I found that it and some of the desirable trailheads sit along the road, and there’s no place to park. A hiker must walk along the road to gain access, and I’m not sure I’d want to do that with my kids in tow, as the road is narrow and windy. I took my car to the other end of Beech Trail and hiked back the opposite way. While some trails in the park are great for young kids, Beech is not, as it runs along a sharp cliff some 60 feet above Tomlinson Run. The view looks down through rhododendron thickets and rocky overhangs. I crossed paths with a wild turkey (who was startled to see a hiker on a Monday morning) and heard pileated woodpeckers calling. From time to time, overhead planes reminded me how close I was to the Pittsburgh Airport, but the park felt otherwise remote and woodsy. And it smelled great, if you’re into mossy, peaty, earthy smells.
I hiked part of Beech Trail and returned to my car to try the Laurel Trail Loop that leads to White Oak Trail. Together they lead into the wilderness area for two to three hours of moderate hiking, if you go all the way out and back. The wilderness area’s primary feature is the gorge and the run that carved it. As noted in my favorite hiking guide, 50 Hikes in West Virginia, “During the 1800s, several mills were built along its length to take advantage of the power created by a drop of 100 feet per mile. The forest vegetation that covers this area today appears to be so healthy and profuse that it may be hard to believe that the land had been abused by coal mining, clear-cut timbering, and unsound agricultural practices before it was purchased for the state park in the early 1900s. It is a lesson in what nature is capable of doing if left alone and permitted to work its magic.”
The geology of Tomlinson Run reminds me of some of our state parks farther south. Much like Cooper’s Rock State Park, you’ll find overhanging cliffs and patches of rhododendron. Yet the gorge also captures the feel of Raven Rocks near Beallsville, Ohio: a rocky ravine juxtaposed with eastern hardwood forest.
Though most of the trails were well marked, I was disappointed to find the trail into the wilderness area was not. The trail map told me to look for a blue blaze, but I spent 40 minutes combing the steep woods along the run and never found it. Some reviewers on my hiking app (AllTrails) complained of the same problem. Now, it’s possible that I’m just an idiot and that the trail was in front of me all along, but I ran out of time and had to head home before I found it. If you’re going in search of the long hike, I’d suggest speaking with a ranger to be sure you know what landmarks to seek.
What I Brought
I’m not a backpacker, but I am a regular day-hiker, and it’s important to be prepared when you hike, even for a short trip. In addition to a trail map, I always bring water. My small hiking pack holds a hydration bladder. Camelbak is a well-known and more expensive brand of hydration pack, but many companies make backpack/bladder combos. They can hold a liter or more of water, which is delivered to the hiker via a flexible tube that runs over your shoulder and hangs at the ready. In addition, I had a sandwich in my pack, an apple, lip balm and my charged cell phone (Verizon came through with full bars). I always wear good hiking shoes and tell a family member where I’m going and when I expect to return. Lastly, my husband makes me carry pepper spray and a sizeable pocket knife for his peace of mind. I guess you never known when you might be stalked by a creep or feel the need to whittle something on the trail.
What I Forgot
I forgot sunscreen, and it was a mistake, especially in the spring before the leaves emerge to shade the trails. I didn’t need bug spray but was horrified to discover that ticks are out in full force. Check your pant legs from time to time and stay on the trails — no bushwhacking. Dogs should have flea and tick control if they’re going to accompany you. A leash is important if Spot comes along.
I also wished I’d brought my trekking poles. This is more a matter of preference than necessity, but they come in handy for those of us who have had a knee injury, embarrassingly bad balance or trip over our own feet in the shower. (It’s possible that all three of those people are me. Hence, the trekking poles.) By no means do you need trekking poles, though. In fact, when I found myself on a steep slope, I simply found a good hiking stick and off we went together. Trekking poles are easy on the knee joints and keep the blood from pooling in your hands. If you’ve used them for a while, you often find yourself accustomed to their support. But they also complicate an otherwise easy hike.
If camping is your thing, and you don’t want to rent a yurt or cabin, the park’s literature offers this blurb for your information:
Tomlinson Run State Park’s 54-site campground has a contact station, convenience store, dump station and two bathhouses with showers and laundry facilities. All sites are suitable for tents and trailers, and include picnic tables and grills, while 39 sites feature electric hookups. The park also has a rustic camping area, ideal for Scouts of all ages. West Virginia State Park campground reservations are available from Memorial Day through Labor Day each year. Campgrounds are open on a first-come, first-serve basis after Labor Day. A campsite reservation application is available here.
Tomlinson Run State Park is a great one-tank trip for anybody in the Ohio Valley. It’s easy to get there, and there are plenty of ways to entertain kids and adults, including 11 geocaching sites. Hikers may find that parking is a little tricky and that some of the trails are difficult to locate, but trails cover most of the park. Campers will find easy access to necessities. Visit the park’s website for more information.
Now get out there.
• Laura Jackson Roberts is a freelance writer in Wheeling, W.Va. She holds an MFA in Creative Writing from Chatham University and writes about nature and the environment. Her work has recently appeared in Brain, Child Magazine, Vandaleer, Animal, Matador Network, Defenestration, The Higgs Weldon and the Erma Bombeck humor site. Laura is the Northern Panhandle representative for West Virginia Writers, a blog editor for Literary Mama Magazine and a member of Ohio Valley Writers. She recently finished her first book of humor. Laura lives in Wheeling with her husband and their sons. Visit her online at www.laurajacksonroberts.com.