If a leisurely, relaxing train ride, combined with watching wildlife — particularly bald eagles — sounds like fun, you might want to head east to Romney, West Virginia, where, in the spring, summer and fall each year, the trains of the Potomac Eagle Scenic Railroad leave Wappocomo Station for a three-hour, 35-mile round-trip deep into the mountains.
The tracks parallel the south fork of the Potomac River, and the highlight of the trip is a wild stretch of stream where eagles soar.
The “Trough,” as the stretch is known, is a steep-sided, 6-mile-long narrow gorge, just wide enough for the river and the train tracks, and eagle sightings there are commonplace. “Two active eagle nests are located high in the trees there, and our spotters help point out the eagles to passengers,” says Jodi Burnsworth, a spokesperson for the railway. “We even slow the train down so everyone can get a good look.”
Burnsworth says travelers shouldn’t be discouraged by inclement weather, such as rain or overcast skies. “The birds are actually more active on those days because it’s cooler, so we see more of them,” she says. Just how many eagles might you see? “Every day is different,” she says, “but we usually see anywhere from a handful to as many as 20 or more.”
Riders have their choice of two ticket options: club and coach. A club ticket includes a three-course dinner in a 1950s-era, climate-controlled lounge car, the meal served on reproduction Chesapeake & Ohio Railroad china. A coach fare is less expensive, and you ride in 1920s-era passenger cars.
Everyone who rides the train has the option of visiting the two observation cars. One is a renovated baggage car with large, open windows. The other is an open-air gondola with bench seating and no roof.
Alana Noble is a railroad employee whose husband is one of the train’s engineers. She says she’s seen some unusual and inspiring sights in her many times riding through the Trough — such as a bald eagle flying low carrying a snake in its talons, and another eagle that swooped down and plucked a rainbow trout from the river. “We almost always see deer,” she says, “and water birds like great blue herons and kingfishers are common along the river. If we’re real lucky, we sometimes spot a black bear.”
In addition to seeing wildlife, riders hear stories dating back to the 1700s told by the train’s narrator. “There’s a lot of interesting history in this area of eastern West Virginia, from the Civil War period all the way back to the French and Indian War,” Burnsworth says.
The Potomac Eagle Scenic Railroad has been operating for 26 years. It begins its season in mid-May, running on weekends through September. During October, the train operates seven days a week. If you’d like to catch the peak autumn colors, make reservations for mid-to-late October. There are also special trips on Mother’s Day and Father’s Day, and a fireworks train around the Fourth of July. An all-day trip (eight hours) is offered the last Saturday of each month.
Since only the club cars are heated/air-conditioned, Burnsworth has a last bit of advice. “Dress for the weather,” she says, “and don’t forget a camera and binoculars — you’ll definitely have opportunity to put both to good use.”
W.H. “Chip” Gross, a member of Consolidated Electric Cooperative, is Ohio Cooperative Living’s outdoors editor. Send him an e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.