Recently I did an on the Manassas Gap Railroad for Centreville Patch. My continued curiosity about the subject led me to the Conway Robinson State Forest, off Route 29 near Gainesville.
The forest comprises of 444 acres in very close proximity to Manassas National Battlefield Park. As an avid hiker interested in taking a stroll through the woods, the park's 5.1 miles of trails over less-than-rugged terrain offered an appealing invitation to enjoy the week’s mild weather without an extended trip out of town or too much wear-and-tear on the knees.
A portion of the trail system actually follows the old railbed for the Manassas Gap Railroad. The railroad’s presence, more than anything else, 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.
According to the Virginia Department of Forestry’s website, 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 5.1 miles of trail are well-suited for hiking, mountain biking or horseback riding as preferred. All trails are very 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’s website. There is also a picnic shelter.
Mountain bikers especially love the forest. “The trails here are great,” stated Jose Acevedo, a biker from the Manassas area who I met along the trail. “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.”