As a lifelong hiker, I have traveled various trails through mountains, prairies, deserts, and even inside a cave. Mixed in have been a few hikes through urban areas like the steel canyon of Chicago and the chilly waterfront of Reykjavik. But here in Winchester exists another urban hiking option — The Green Circle Trail.
This hometown hike is a 6.3-mile loop connecting areas of historic, recreational, educational, and natural interest. Though still being polished, the route has been established with clear signage to guide those interested. This past Memorial Day, I hopped on near Abrams Creek Wetlands before sunrise. The weather was perfect. After only a few hundred yards, it became clear the walk would entail a variety of experiences — perhaps exactly what the city had in mind when they designed the route.
Soon after starting, I spot a tent beside Abrams Creek. The slower pace of foot travel allows for such unexpected finds. After crossing a few busy intersections, the trail leads through the campus of Shenandoah University before arriving at Wilkins Lake. At sunrise, it was just me and the waterfowl.
The trail next leads to Shawnee Springs where a geology lesson awaits. Winchester is home to two stops on the Virginia Cave and Karst Trail. At both Shawnee and Abrams Creek, the state protects the sensitive environments here that include springs and limestone ledges.
After passing the under-construction Patsy Cline Park, the trail follows Town Run entering its quietest stretch before switch-backing up to Cecil Street. From Cecil, the route weaves through square city blocks before arriving at the downtown walking mall which was deserted at such an early hour. Surely, on a beautiful holiday, the mall was abuzz later with pressure to grab highly sought outdoor dining seats.
A pit stop was needed so I grabbed a chocolate donut and some coffee to keep me going. During most hikes, pit stops occur at mountain tops or pond’s edge, but on this hometown hike I simply plopped on the steps of the Winchester Little Theater to watch the city awaken.
Refreshed, the next point of interest was the Old Town Spring — another spot that foot travel embellishes. There is deep history regarding this spring’s role in Winchester’s water needs. Further on, I pass glistening fields at the Museum of the Shenandoah Valley and press on to James Wood Middle School where American hornbeam are covered in cicada shells — a sign that the school and these trees have been here for generations.
The final stretch passes the picturesque hospital entrance then turns along Meadow Branch Avenue past John Kerr Elementary and Abrams Creek again ending my hometown hike.
As designed, the Green Circle Trail has led through a variety of environments and provided a deeper understanding and appreciation for Winchester. It’s a long hike, but even in optional small doses, the trail accomplishes its goal of encompassing Winchester’s varied environments.
To find out more about the trail, visit winchesterva.gov/green-circle-trail.
Tim Koppenhaver is a resident of Winchester.