CLIFFTOP, WV (LOOTPRESS) – The Glade Creek Grist Mill, Boley Lake, and the Mann’s Creek Gorge are all popular areas within Babcock State Park in Clifftop, but there is one other area of the park that may be of interest to eager hikers and explorers.
Babcock State Park was named after Edward V. Babcock, who owned and operated the Babcock Coal and Coke Company which had mining and lumber operations in Landisburg and Clifftop. The coal and lumber from the two towns were hauled by rail down to the town of Sewell at New River.
The three-foot narrow gauge railway was called the Mann’s Creek Railway, it was built in 1886 and was in operation until 1955. The right-of-way went right through present-day Babcock State Park. The current narrow road from cabin thirteen and on past the Grist Mill was the Landisburg spur of the railway, and the established Narrow Gauge Trail led up to Clifftop.
For years, most of the old rail bed leading down to Sewell from the end of the Narrow Gauge Trail has been impassable due to many washouts, landslides, and downed trees.
Earlier this year, Babcock State Park received $700,000 in grants for trail maintenance and construction. Since then, WVDOH and state park officials have been hard at work repairing around four miles of the old railway into a trail that leads you into the historic ghost town of Sewell.
New drainage pipes have been installed, fresh gravel has been placed, and a new bridge has been constructed at Flanagan Branch Falls. Interpretive signs have also been placed along the new four miles of trail.
To hike this trail, park at the Grist Mill and walk down Old Sewell road towards the cabins for nearly 1.5 miles, and you will arrive at a switchback at the Narrow Gauge Trailhead, stay straight on the graveled road and you will be bound for the New River.
At around 2.5-3 miles in, you will arrive at Flanagan Branch Falls where a beautiful waterfall and an old boiler used for the steam engines sits. Further on down, one will eventually be able to catch a beautiful view of the New River and train trestle at Cunard.
At about the four-mile mark, you will reach the end of the newly constructed trail and will have to traverse the rest of the rail bed that has not been maintained. After about 1-2 miles, you will arrive in the town of Sewell which is part of the New River Gorge National Park & Preserve.
Sewell was one of the many coal towns in the New River Gorge. It was home to 193 coke ovens, multiple stores, a bottling company, a movie theater and many homes.
The coke ovens remain along with part of the steam engine house. Many foundations, a larry car, a boiler to a steam engine, tipple remains, and old rails are other notable things you can find while exploring the town.
Be sure to get an early start so you’re not hiking back up the mountain in the dark!