Tennis to speak on ‘Trails with Tales’

Published 1:49 pm Thursday, November 5, 2015

Joe Tennis will share stories from his book “Virginia Rail Trails: Crossing the Commonwealth” at the Farmville-Prince Edward Community Library on Monday. His book includes the High Bridge Trail that runs through Farmville.

The author, who lives in Bristol and grew up in Virginia Beach, developed an interest in Virginia’s rail trails while working a previous book about Route 58.

Tennis is features writer for the Bristol Herald Courier, a position he has held for the past 22 years.

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The Virginia Rail Trails book is the author’s eighth book. He will also discuss another recent release, “Along Virginia’s Route 58: True Tales from Beach to Bluegrass.”

“It’s an updated version of a book I did about 10 years ago,” he said. “It features 58 stories down Route 58.”

The Route 58 book indirectly led Tennis into writing his Virginia Rails Trails book.

“My father Richard Tennis actually coined the ‘Beach to Bluegrass’ name,” the author said. “The Beaches to Bluegrass Trail was named after the book I did in 2007.”

In 2008 Tennis started making plans for a book that would include all the railroads that were abandoned and turned into trails. That was also the time frame for the start of a new trail — High Bridge.

“I started visiting High Bridge as well as all the other trails in Lynchburg and Lexington,” Tennis said. “I’d throw a bicycle into the back of my pickup truck, and I’d ride and walk these trails and explore them.”

As work progressed on his book, Tennis made more trips to Farmville.

“I came and visited High Bridge again in 2013, my kids came along, and we spent part of the day with Eric Hougland and Magi Van Eps at the Farmville Tourism office.”

Bob Flippen also helped with the book, the author added.

“I left Farmville so enthused,” Tennis said. “I said — if I’ve ever seen an idea for a book, this is it!”

In “Virginia Rail Trails” Tennis tracked the history the original High Bridge by the South Side Rail Road from its conception to its transition to a trail. His book includes trail and road directions plus narratives that recall Civil War stories and why larger trains made it necessary to build a new bridge in 1914.

Other chapters focus on the Chessie Nature Trail at Lexington; Victoria Railroad Park; Tobacco Heritage Trail at Lawrenceville; Huckleberry Trail at Blacksburg; New River Trail State Park; and the rail trails of South Boston, Danville and Martinsville. In all, the author profiled 45 trails, including the Washington & Old Dominion Trail and Virginia Creeper Trail.

‘The book had to have history with real stories that were engaging, like the time they stopped the train to save a pregnant woman in the snow up on Whitetop Mountain or how they shut down a railroad during World War I and tore up the tracks for the war effort,” he said.

Tennis worked on his 272-page “Virginia Rail Trails” book for almost seven years.

“This is a history book,” he said. “It’s a story of how wars, floods and sometimes comical calamities affected railroads that are now paths for hiking, biking and horseback riding.”

Tennis knows these trails well — he has traveled all of them, collecting stories along the way.

“These are trails with tales,” he said.

The Friends of Farmville-Prince Edward Community Library are presenting the talk by Joe Tennis on Monday at 7 p.m. The event is free, and the public is invited.