Twenty years ago, a group of folks in my community joined together with a shared vision to create a rail trail. But it’s not just any trail. It’s a muscle powered trail open to folks who walk, ride bicycles or ride horses. It stretches for sixteen miles through the Zaleski State Forest, Lake Hope State Park wetlands and some small villages.
It’s called the Moonville Rail Trail, named for one of Vinton County’s most famous landmarks, the Moonville Tunnel. The trail follows an old Baltimore and Ohio rail line through sheer wilderness. The tunnel is famous primarily for legends and stories about ghosts and hauntings. It’s also a super cool old railroad tunnel.
In fact, many people come just to see the tunnel. They park, walk the short distance to the tunnel, nose around a bit and leave.
Sadly, they’re missing the best part. I was there with a friend after work last night. We parked at Moonville and then walked the approximate two miles to another tunnel. This one is called King’s Hollow Tunnel or sometimes King’s Switch.
First of all, I want to say how amazed I am at the work the Moonville Rail Trail Association has accomplished. When the railroad pulled out of this stretch years ago, they took out everything including the bridges which cross ravines as well as the incredibly twisty Raccoon Creek.
Having new bridges placed was imperative to making this rail trail usable. This is not a wealthy community so they have relied on grants, fundraisers and donations of blood, sweat and tears from a very small core group of people. You cross several of their bridges in that two mile stretch between Moonville and Kings Hollow and I couldn’t help but smile every time we approached a new one. This is what can be accomplished when people unite for a common good.
This is a densely forested area with gorgeous views of the changing foliage, wetlands and stream. Plus, there are the tunnels.
The Moonville Tunnel was built in 1856 and repaired at the turn of the next century. It’s brick and very cool. It’s named for the small town that was once located here. No more than a hundred people ever lived in Moonville at one time and they were mostly miners and rail workers. There’s not much left except a cemetery, the tunnel and some tall tales. Even the foundation stones once left from old buildings have been mostly swept away by flooding or souvenir seekers. However, if you go off trail in your exploration you might stumble into an old cellar or two so be careful.
Today the tunnel is largely covered in graffiti. Visiting here has long been a rite of passage for young people, including Ohio University students, to visit at night. They commonly leave their mark.
Walk a couple of miles east of Moonville to find the King’s Hollow Tunnel. What makes it special is that it’s wood. It’s a 120 foot long wooden tunnel carved through rock. I love the way the rock juts out overhead so you can truly see what the builders were up against all those years ago.
This tunnel has a distinct smell. It smells musty and old like old wood and oil. You can actually smell the tunnel before you can see it. Also, the temperature drops at least ten degrees as you approach. Sadly, graffiti artists have found this one too.
You can drive to this tunnel but then you would miss out on the glorious views along the walk and the true peace and quiet that you don’t find many places. Speaking of quiet, don’t expect much cell service.
Click here to see some more pictures from another King’s Hollow visit. Read more about the Rail Trail and get directions to Moonville at the Vinton County CVB site. You can also take a trail ride to Moonville at Uncle Buck’s Riding Stable. I did that last year and wrote about it here! Finally, I want to mention they typically have a fun event at Moonville in October. It’s cancelled this year because of Covid spikes in Ohio but they’ve already announced the 2022 date. Read about that event here.
Check back. I’ll tell you what I know about Moonville’s ghosts soon.