Recently I wrote an on the Manassas Gap Railroad for Centreville Patch. My continued curiosity about the subject led me this past week to Conway Robinson State Forest, off Route 29 near Gainesville.
The forest comprises 444 acres in very close proximity to Manassas National Battlefield Park. The 5.1 miles of trails are perfect for an avid hiker looking for an extended trip not too far out of town and not too hard on the knees. There is also a picnic shelter.
Mountain bikers love the forest. “The trails here are great,” said cyclist Jose Acevedo, of Manassas. “They’re not too hilly. They are pretty smooth but they have some challenging moments. It’s pretty deserted so you can get some good speed – but you do need to be careful of walkers.”
A portion of the trail system actually follows the old railbed for the Manassas Gap Railroad. The railroad led to the Confederate concentration in the Manassas area that precipitated both of the battles that occurred near Bull Run. In fact, the portion in Conway Robinson Forest is not too far from where Stonewall Jackson dug in before some brutal fighting during the Second Battle of Manassas. Most of the fighting occurred further east, in what is now Manassas National Battlefield Park, but it does make for a historically-interesting hike.
The forest was established in 1938 to pay tribute to Conway Robinson, a famous litigator and former Virginia Delegate who argued more than 100 cases before the Supreme Court. The central purpose of the land is to preserve, as much as possible, the natural woodland state. The vegetation is managed only as far as deemed necessary to protect the health of the forest and mitigate hazards from fire.
The trails are well-suited for hiking, mountain biking and horseback riding. All trails are wide, clearly marked and exceptionally well-maintained. For any use other than hiking you will need to obtain a permit – it costs $16 and is good for one year. Permits can be obtained from the Virginia Department of Forestry.