As I drove down a small country road in Craig County, my primary objective was not to get shot. It was hunting season. Every mile or so, I saw a pickup truck parked beside the edge of the road, no doubt looking for deer.
I happened upon Fenwick Iron Mines. It featured very comforting “no hunting” signs, although I didn’t visit the park on one of its better days. I imagine the small pond and trails would be much more attractive in the greens of spring or reds, oranges and yellows of early fall. As it was, the leaves were brown and most of the birds had gone south. You would have figured I would see a couple of smart deer hanging out in the no hunting zone. No dice.
The mine was active beginning in the 19th century. It hit its peek early in the 1920s when it supported a town of about 300 people.
The park, as well as more than half of the land in Craig County, is in the George Washington and Jefferson National Forests. It is one of the few Virginia counties without any stop lights.
After my run, I opted to drive into New Castle. Its population of 153 makes it the biggest town in the state’s third smallest county (5,000).
I stopped at a rummage sale. I noticed an older man wearing what looked to me to be a kiddie cap gun straight out of a Roy Rodgers Halloween costume.
I went into an arts & craft shop. I overheard a woman talking on her cell phone. She was asking if grandpa needed a new gun holster because they were selling them outside.
When I went outside, I noticed nearly everyone was carrying a gun – from antique handguns, to modern pistols, to the type of rifles you would expect to see in a war zone.
I had stumbled upon Open Carry Day. In Virginia, you have the right to carry your gun in plain sight. Everyone in New Castle was exercising that right.
“I’ve never felt safer in my life,” says the speaker surrounded 40 or 50 armed supporters. Maybe it is my Northern Virginia bias, but a bunch of guys carrying guns makes me rather nervous.
Guns for hunting? As a carnivore, I can’t argue with that. Guns for personal protection? Not in favor of it, but I respect the argument.
Then the speaker started talking about needing arms to protect against an unjust government. While I understand the concept from a historical perspective, I fear the potential of a misguided militia training in the mountains for who-knows-what.
After snapping a bunch of photos from a distance with a long lens, I started my way out of town. I heard someone yell, “Hey, what you got there?” My first thought was that the open carry rule doesn’t apply to cameras and, well, I might be in trouble. But then I realized he was talking to the guy carrying a military-style rifle. He wanted to know if he could buy it.
From there, I headed toward the city of Covington. I started at the Jackson River Trail and ran into the city. A 1.5 mile long paper mill with massive chimneys towers over the small town. The MeadWestvaco plant, the second largest paper board facility on the East Coast, must be doing well. Smoke was billowing out all weekend.
I returned to the Jackson River Trail the next morning. This time, I ran in the Allegheny County. The flat trail is about 7 miles long and there are plans to expand it. It hosts a half marathon in the spring.
Alleghany County has more than triple the population of Craig. In addition to the mill, CSX helps fuel the economy with its large operation in Clifton Forge. Clifton Forge had been an independent city, but became part of Alleghany in 2001. The county also gets an economic boost from the Homestead resort and ski area that is just to the north.
65 runs downs, 69 to go.