The Best Trails On Liberty’s Campus To Run And The Professor Who Developed Them

Around this time of year, students are making lots of transitions. Some are finding post-grad jobs. Some are preparing to graduate or travel for the summer. Many are transitioning from spending most of their time inside to getting outdoors more. 

With the advent of warmer weather, Liberty’s trail system offers the perfect opportunity for students to transition from working out indoors to exercising outdoors.  

The trails connect the Hydaway Outdoor Center, the LU Monogram, SnowFlex and the Intramural Complex. 

“(It’s) an underused resource on campus that people should take advantage of,” Isaac Buckner, president of the Ultrarunning Club, said. “Liberty’s network is very impressive for being on a college (campus).”

The club frequently uses the trail system to practice its endurance running. Not only do the trails give them a place to exercise, but they also offer a space to spend time in nature. 

“(There are) positive benefits you experience physically and emotionally,” Buckner said about being outside. 

Health professor David Horton began the development of the Liberty Mountain Trail System in the early 1980s. He continued to add onto the trail system up until eight years ago, even enlisting his students to help. He required the students in his running class to do one day of trail work. 

“I look for old trails or old roads,” Horton said about the trail development process. “Then I look for trails to hook up to other trails. You don’t want to dig a lot.”

The trail system now covers about 5,000 acres with over 65 miles of trails, according to the state of Virginia’s website. Of those 65 miles, Horton estimated that he was involved in the formation of 40 miles with the others developed by paid contractors. 

The trail usage goes beyond the running club and Horton’s running students. Horton speculated that due to Lynchburg’s milder weather, the trails are used almost every day of the year. Whether biking, running or hiking, there are opportunities for people with a variety of expertise and athleticism to use the trails.

For beginning runners, Buckner suggests the Mike Donahue trail. Horton also listed this trail as one of his favorites. The trail was named in honor of Maj. Michael Donahue, former ROTC professor at Liberty, who was killed in 2014 while serving in Afghanistan. 

Buckner also recommended that intermediate runners use Monogram Road, and he encouraged advanced runners to use all the trails. Horton, who has transitioned from running to biking in the past few years, also listed Idiot’s Run and Horton’s Loop as among his favorites. 

“I love seeing the trails used. Trails are made to be used,” Horton said. “We don’t have any ‘no trespassing’ signs. Anyone can come.”

Before using the trails, safety is first and foremost. For all users, whether on foot or bike, it is important to continually watch the trail itself, as roots and rocks can be unsuspecting obstacles. Buckner also noted that running on a trail is a different experience and level of difficulty than running on a road, and prospective trail runners should prepare for that.  

As for the future, with the expansion of the lake at Hydaway, Horton suspected more trails will be added, spreading the Liberty Mountain Trail System even further. 

hetzel is a feature reporter.

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