On any given day, dozens of brave hikers will descend the steep and winding Kaymoor Miners Trail, passing the abandoned shafts at the Kaymoor One Mine and then heading down the long, elaborate staircase that deposits them at Kaymoor Bottom. There, they will stand amongst the ancient ruins of what was once an industrious coal town. Although these crumbling buildings still stand, they are slowly losing the battle against nature—and time—begging to tell the stories of those that once inhabited the ghost town.
Between the years of 1900 and 1962, Kaymoor was a booming coal town that employed more than 800 miners and extracted nearly 17 million tons of coal. The miners that worked there migrated from neighboring states or emigrated from European countries to live in company housing and work for the Low Moor Coal Company. Coal mining was a dangerous job in the early 1900s—explosions, fires, electrocutions, and collapses were not uncommon. The perilous working conditions of the Kaymoor mine claimed many of the miners’ lives during its 60-some years of operation.
As hikers pass the Kaymoor mining bench, they can peer into the now-barred mineshafts where the miners spent their days hunched over while loading carts with coal to be sent down the mountainside. Making their way onto the wooden staircase, they will notice rusty old rails underfoot. These were once part of Kaymoor’s mountain haulage—an open electric railcar that workers would ride to get between the mine bench and the town at the bottom. At the bottom of the steps, hikers will find the enormous and partially-collapsed steel tipple—a chute that moved coal to be loaded onto train cars. Next door sits the stone ruins of the power house where some of the coal was burned to generate the electricity that powered the industrial processes. Beyond the power house lay the coke ovens, where most of the coal was processed and converted into industrial coke—a much cleaner-burning fuel used in industrial smelting of iron ores.
Although the area is steeped in lore and history, many of today’s hikers are seeking the physical challenge that comes with what may be considered by some to be a grueling slog. Signs at the top will warn prospective hikers of a sustained and strenuous hike back to the top that includes 821 wooden steps on the staircase and a 900-foot elevation gain over less than three-quarters of a mile. Many area locals will use the trail frequently as a means to train their physical fitness or test their endurance. They can be found in athletic attire, often attempting to best their personal times or to make the entire climb without stopping. Only the fittest of athletes will have the endurance to run the entirety of the trail in a single push.
Other hikers endure the physical challenge more slowly in order to enjoy the natural beauty and to experience the ancient ruins, now being reclaimed by nature. Many of the buildings have tall trees growing through their foundations and out through holes in what remains of their roof structures. Moss and vines cover many of their decrepit and cracked facades. Interpretive signs, placed by the National Park Service, are scattered throughout the historic site, educating readers about the daily operations of the structures and their inhabitants.
Whether seeking a physical challenge, appreciating the natural beauty of the gorge, or to admiring the historic significance of a classic Appalachian coal camp-turned-ghost town, the Kaymoor Miners Trail offers an unforgettable experience for all hikers.
Matt Carpenter is a Fayetteville High School science teacher, an accomplished climber, and board member for the New River Alliance of Climbers.