This year, one West Virginia resident set out to hike 500 miles — and completed her goal Dec. 20.
Connie Boley-Lilly, 57, of Beaver, W.Va., was turned on to the idea by the National Park Service 100th Anniversary Challenge. That challenge, launched in early 2016, was to hike 100 miles during the year in the New River Gorge National Park in West Virginia.
“I have been hiking in this park for several years and I was pretty sure that I was going to exceed 100 miles in 2016, so I set a personal goal of 500 miles.”
Boley-Lilly hikes in parts of the park located in Summers, Raleigh, and Fayette counties in Southern West Virginia. The park covers about 70,000 acres, and she said that she never grew tired of the views throughout the park.
The year did throw her some curveballs, though.
“Little did I know (when I set the goal) that I would become a grandma and a mother of the bride in the summer,” she said. “Hiking was not the priority mid-summer.”
Boley-Lilly said that she made up for her very busy summer by hiking more in the fall.
“I love hiking on the edge of the gorge where you have a view of the river below,” she said. “Southern West Virginia has four distinct seasons, and I enjoy hiking during each.”
It was hiking in the snow that she enjoyed most, though.
“Starting in January with many snowy hikes, the park was just breathtaking. The only footprints there were made by many deer, Chester (her dog), and myself.”
And while she loved the snow, November was her best month in 2016, when she hiked 100 miles in 21 days.
“The fall provided a colorful canvas which seemed more intense each day.”
The national park service provided a log sheet to record the hiking, where she kept track of the date, location, distance and weather conditions of each hike.
“I hiked 150 days to achieve the 500 miles,” she said. “Some days may have only been a couple of miles, but several were 5 to 6 miles a day.”
She said that she participated in a few of the park service’s guided hikes, as well.
Boley-Lilly wasn’t alone on her travels. Chester, her 14-year-old Jack Russell Terrier did all 500 miles with her.
“He has hiked with me since he was a puppy. He is my best encouragement,” she said.
Living only about 5 miles away from the park, she said that Chester “looks out the window and whines until we arrive — he can’t wait to get on the trail.”
Boley-Lilly and her husband are very active in the Mid-Atlantic region in a lot of ways: They use the West Virginia Rails-to-Trails system to bike on; enjoy bicycling the boardwalk on Virginia Beach and have gone on a few kayaking trips.
Boley-Lilly said that she hiked on many trails throughout New River Gorge National Park, but these were her favorites.
The following information is provided by nps.gov.
Grandview Rim is the longest trail at Grandview, connecting Main Overlook with Turkey Spur. From Main Overlook to Turkey Spur is a moderate 1.6 mile hike (3.2 miles round trip). Along the way hikers will enjoy many breathtaking views of the gorge and river far below.
The Endless Wall is one of the best “unknown” hiking destinations within the park. Great views of the New River, almost 1,000 feet below, are abundant. The Endless Wall Trail is a 2.4 mile moderate walk that passes through rich forest, crosses Fern Creek, then zig-zags along the cliff edge. Many vistas can be seen along the trail.
This trail travels 1.6 miles to a spectacular view of the New River Gorge and the New River Gorge Bridge. The trail begins by traversing through a field behind a number of houses, follows a relaxed forest trail, and then takes a final short and impressive descent through rhododendron and mountain laurel to Long Point.
This moderate 2.7 mile trail follows an old road along the banks of the New River. Great views and easy access to the river are available along this trail.
Throughout the duration of her personal challenge, Boley-Lilly shared many of her hikes and other adventures with Recreation News using #LivePlayDo on Instagram. See more photos here.