Beam blazes ‘PocaFork’ trail 

By Stephen Baldwin, RealWV

Aaron Beam likes to chase wild places. After spending a summer during college living in Canaan Valley and running in Dolly Sods each day, he fell in love with the rugged beauty of secluded mountain trails. 

“But Dolly Sods has gotten really busy,” Aaron remarks, “maybe not as enjoyable these days, with the DC crowd there.” 

So Aaron decided to search for new wild places. His search led back to a place near his home in Nicholas County. 

“An idea came to me,” he remembers. “Maybe I could run from the Cranberry Nature Center, one of my favorite places in the world, back to Richwood which is near where I’m from.” 

There was only one problem. Such a trail didn’t really exist. Not as a single unit to be used by runners. Various trails in the area had been used in the past, but they were in disrepair in years past.

‘PocaFork’

Aaron began working to see if he could piece together various trails into a single route suitable for runnings. Utilizing the Pocahontas and Fork Mountain Trails, he found a path to the Cranberry Nature Center. It took three different trips over several months, but Aaron was able to make it work.

“That’s how it got the name,” Aaron says. “You mash the two words together of the main trails, PocaFork.”

None of it would have been possible, he says, without the hard work of Steve Jones and the Monongahela Outdoor Volunteers. They are a non-profit dedicated to improving and maintaining trails for bikers and hikers. They had been over every inch of the trails Aaron utilized, bringing the trails back into repair for use.

“It’s a real amenity to have folks like that who care about the trails,” Aaron says. “Without them clearing trees and doing trail work, this wouldn’t have been possible.” 

The first run 

Last week, Aaron decided to make the first run on PocaFork along with his friend Andrew Rhodes. In full, the route is 25 miles. 

Lauren, Aaron’s wife who is also a long-distance runner, met the pair along the way at two points to provide aid. “But the last 16 miles was all on our own,” Aaron adds. 

They finished the trail in 5 hours, 31 minutes, and 17 seconds, which was notable considering the challenges they faced along the way. 

“There was six inches of fresh leaves on the trails,” Aaron laments. “I had several falls and stumbles and was slow because of it. I wish we’d gone before the leaves fell, but that’s just how it had to work out.”

The trail is a single-track path. Aaron describes it as “brutally technical” with numerous treacherous and tricky spots along the way requiring a runner’s full attention. 

“I’m not an elite runner,” he says. “This is doable for others. And I know others will beat my time quickly. That’s awesome. I just want folks to see it.” 

While Aaron is the first to enter the trail and a time with Fastest Known Time (an online tracking system for trails across the world), he isn’t sure he’s the first to blaze the trail. He says others may have tried it in the past but not recorded it. 

“I’m not trying to hide the trail,” he adds. “I’m trying to tell people about it. It follows the southernmost boundary of the Mon forest, and I want people to see its beauty.” 

Tips for visiting

If you want to give the trail a try, Aaron does have a few tips. 

One, “know what you’re getting into.” Because there is no good mapping of the trail, he suggests people familiarize themselves with it in advance. Perhaps in stages, like he did. 

Two, bring a camera. “The rugged beauty is amazing. There aren’t expansive views, but the old growth forest is beautiful.”

Three, have a team with you. “I couldn’t have done this without Lauren, Andrew, Steve, Bill Young (Aaron’s father-in-law who also runs long distances), and Cecil Ybanez (who gave him rides to the trailhead from Richwood).” 

‘Fulfilling, in a sadistic way’

Aaron is an accountant at Adventures on the Gorge. He is a self described “nerd” who loves numbers. He also is lead singer of a bluegrass band called Aaron Beam and the Do-Gooders. What drives a person to run such long distances in their spare time? 

“It’s fulfilling, in a sadistic way,” he jokes. “It brings a sense of fulfillment. Every step you take when you’re in pain the next day, you’re reminded of what you’ve done and where you’ve been. It’s also taken me to a lot of places people don’t get to see. I get a lot of enjoyment out of it, despite the pain and suffering. You remember it forever.”

Aaron realizes others may not find fulfillment as he does in long distance trail runs, but he does hope they will be able to see the beauty of the PocaFork Trail. 

“I want people to go see it,” he says. “It’s just so beautiful.”

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