Thursday, January 21, 2021

Love Valley Trail

Saddle up, friends, and let me put a little bee in your bonnet about a most unusual outing.

In 1954, Charlotte businessman Andy Barker left his general contracting career at 29 years old to fulfill his childhood dream of living in an authentic Western town. But, instead of heading out West, he packed up his family and moved just past Statesville, about an hour and 15 minutes north of Charlotte.

Here, in the foothills of the Brushy Mountains, he founded the town of Love Valley, creating an authentic replica of an old Wild West movie setting, complete with a dirt main street open only to pedestrian and equine traffic, a saloon, a general store, a post office and a leather smith.

Today, Love Valley still stands, boasting a population of just under 100 people, and offers visitors a bona fide glimpse of a rugged, quaint Wild West existence. And, bonus for hikers and bikers looking for new frontiers, it's home to a section of the Carolina Thread Trail.

Intrigued by the novelty and lore, and seeking a new-to-us trail, we recently visited Love Valley and, as the cowboys would say, I could yarn the hours away about what we found. It was hands-down one of the most unusual outings we've taken. This tiny, anachronistic town is interesting, bizarre, surprising, and, to me, a little bit uncanny. Here's what you can expect if you go:

There's a large gravel public parking lot at the corner of Henry Martin Trail Rd. and Tori Pass Ln., across the street from Ms. Kitty's B&B. Leave your car here; "downtown" is closed to vehicular traffic.

From the parking lot facing the street, the main stretch is a block to your left. You can't miss the large, soaring, ranch-style "Love Valley" entrance sign. Amble this way to see the historic buildings and to find the trailhead, which is at the dead end, marked with a Carolina Thread Trail sign.

On a weekday afternoon, save for a local or two (and the specter playing piano at the saloon. No, really.), we were the only ones around. Which lent some authenticity to a ghost-town vibe. I never felt unsafe, but I definitely muttered "this is so weird" more than a handful of times.

The 2.7-mile natural surface trail is great for horses if you have one, decent for feet, and not at all ideal for bikes. We tried two-wheelers first, but quickly determined it would make for a better hike. And even then we only got so far.

The trail was muddy and trenched in many places with steep inclines. Total, it's 2.7 miles (one way) and might have become more passable farther along, but I can confirm that the first mile or so is tough and not-so-pleasant going, particularly if it's rained in, say, the past week. (Also, look out for horse droppings and yield to equestrians.)

When we went, the town was still adorned with Christmas decorations, which leads me to believe it had been alive with events and merriment a few weeks ago. But it was hard to tell otherwise whether any of the old shops and restaurants are currently in operation. The town website says they are primarily open on weekends. If you're interested in a social outing, it's probably worth a call to some of the local establishments in advance.

If you're feeling pioneering and interested in taking a step back in time, get a wiggle on (cowboy for "hurry") and mosey up to Love Valley. It's a lot of things, but most especially, something you can't find anywhere else in these parts. Giddy up, pardner.

How to get there:
A public parking lot for downtown Love Valley is located at 152 Henry Martin Trail, Love Valley, NC, 28625. The Carolina Thread Trail sign and trailhead is at the dead end of the main stretch.

Don't forget to pack:
  • Comfortable walking shoes: Boots are a good choice for the trail after a rain.
  • Water and snacks
  • Hats, sunglasses and sunscreen
  • Bugspray: Particularly in warmer months
  • A sense of adventure