The old railroad bed has not changed much in the past 145 years. The steel rails have been removed and the trestle of course is gone, replaced by an earthen berm that spans Sulphur Creek, but the green valley still gently slopes up to meet the low hill where Union forces constructed a fort to defend the railroad line. Sulphur Creek still runs free and clear.
But everything else has changed. The railroad line hosts an entirely different crowd today—hikers, bikers, birdwatchers and horseback riders. Today the Richard Martin Trail, part of the national Rails-to-Trails network, cuts through the middle of this historic battlefield.
The former Decatur and Nashville Railroad line remained in continuous service until 1986 when it was abandoned. Shortly thereafter, local resident Richard Martin spearheaded efforts to convert the abandoned route into a recreational trail. His efforts were successful and the completed trail is now managed by the Limestone County Parks and Recreation Department and attracts hundreds of outdoor enthusiasts. Martin remains a driving force behind the trial and continues to advocate for trail improvements.
Along the twelve mile length of the Trail, hikers can retrace the steps of Civil War soldiers, visit the quaint Veto Methodist Church constructed in the 1800s, walk past wetlands and across clear sparkling creeks, and stop for a lunch break in the tiny town of Elkmont. The historic railroad depot still stands alongside the trail in Elkmont, along with a restored caboose.
The trail is a peaceful natural retreat that is enjoyed by thousands of local residents and out of towners. Well maintained with a crushed gravel surface it makes for easy pedaling for bikers. Wildflower walks and other seasonal events are scheduled frequently by the Athens/Limestone Parks and Recreation Department.
With few exceptions the trail is shaded beneath arching hardwood trees so even on a hot summer day you’re sheltered from the sun. There is an area of low wetlands south of Elkmont that is prime birdwatching territory. Wood ducks and warblers frequent the bog and an occasional heron can be spotted. North of Elkmont the terrain becomes hilly and creeks meander through open woodlands. Deer, squirrels and rabbits can be spotted along the trail as well as hawks and woodpeckers.
Along the way, you will pass over two creeks that are now spanned by picturesque covered bridges. At the Sulphur Trestle battle site, a local Boy Scout troop has constructed an informational plaque and a wooden bench.
From I-65, take Exit 361 west about four miles on Sandlin Road/Route 100 into Elkmont.
The Elkmont trailhead, which is about the halfway point on the trail, is on the left, nest to the restored depot and railcar. The trail hours are daylight to sunset. No motorized vehicles are allowed.
The Piney Chapel trailhead offers a pavilion, restrooms and a parking lot.
The Veto trailhead has restrooms and the restored Veto Church. The trail is horse-friendly with watering facilities along its length.
8.8-mile point-to-point Rails-to-Trails
Easy to Moderate
Open year-round, sunrise to sunset.
From Athens and the intersection of US 72 and US 127 (Jefferson St.) travel north on US 127 9.8 miles and turn right onto CR 49 (Upper Fort Hampton Road). Travel .7 miles. The trailhead is at the caboose located at the Elkmont town hall. This trailhead is in the center of the trail.
Moderate-size parking area.
Available through the City of Elkmont.
No fees to hike.
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