Rivers and Trails in Martinsville, VA
Those who are looking to get away from it all in Martinsville-Henry County don’t have to look very far. From picturesque rivers to numerous hiking and biking trails, this is an area where the outdoors are indeed great, and recreational activities can be discovered in every direction.
“There’s so much natural beauty found here right in our own backyard,” says Jennifer Doss, rivers and trails project manager for the Dan River Basin Association. “It’s really nice that you don’t have to drive long distances to take a walk in the woods or a paddle trip down the river. It’s easy to go after work or on weekends to enjoy nature. We’re really fortunate to have this beauty right here with us.”
Rolling through the heart of Martinsville-Henry County is the Smith River. The upper part of the river, near Philpott Dam, churns past wooded mountains and offers a feeling of seclusion. The lower part of the river, near the town of Ridgeway, is more open and wide and similar to the expansive rivers found in the western U.S.
“There are so many different feels to it that in one day’s time, you can go to several different sections of the river and feel like you’ve been in completely different locations,” Doss says.
The river provides the spine of the growing Smith River Trails system, which includes multiuse trails, boating access and recreational parks. Approximately 12 miles of the trail were completed in 2010, with a long-term goal of expanding to 45 miles, running from Philpott Dam to Eden, N.C.
The jewel of the trail is the Gravely Nature Preserve near Ridgeway. This 75-acre preserve is Henry Country’s only interpretative park, allowing visitors to learn about the history of the area while also enjoying the scenery. There are two miles of trails in the preserve, including a half-mile section called the Rhododendron Trail that runs alongside the river.
One of the most popular parts of the Smith River Trails system is the Fieldale Trail, which consists of a 1-mile gravel walking trail and a 1-mile natural-surface trail, making it attractive to both hikers and bikers. With the river on one side and wildflowers and huge sycamore trees on the other, the trail also is frequented by photographers and bird watchers.
Back to the northwest of Martinsville, near Philpott Dam, is Fairy Stone State Park, which is the largest of Virginia’s six original state parks. The 4,537-acre park includes a 168-acre lake as well as camping and hiking opportunities. But the park is perhaps best known for its fairy stones, lovely brown staurolite crystals that were compressed into shapes resembling crosses and can be found in abundance throughout the park grounds.
“It’s one of the few places on earth where that type of rock formation is found,” Doss says. “It’s a really beautiful place.”
Nearby is Jamison Mill Park, which the Army Corps of Engineers and the Friends of Philpott organization restored, building trails and opening the boat ramp.
“Having all this regional activity is so important,” Doss says. “It allows for tourists to come in and have something to do, but it also provides quality of life for our residents.”