Photos

Eagles still big draw for 25-year-old excursion train

Charleston Gazette photo courtesy W.Va. Department of Commerce Potomac Eagle excursion train rolls over a trestle crossing the South Branch of the Potomac River.
Charleston Gazette photo courtesy W.Va. Department of Commerce
Potomac Eagle excursion train rolls over a trestle crossing the South Branch of the Potomac River.

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Had bald eagles not established nests in the early 1980s in a remote, six-mile-long canyon carved through the mountains of Hardy and Hampshire counties by the South Branch of the Potomac River, the state’s second-oldest excursion train may never have left the station.

Nesting bald eagles had been absent from West Virginia for generations due to habitat loss and a sharp drop in population brought on by the sustained use of the now-banned pesticide DDT, which, after entering the food chain, made the shells of eagle eggs too thin and fragile to remain intact through the incubation process. Then, in 1981, West Virginia DNR wildlife biologists verified the presence of the first known West Virginia bald eagle nest of the 20th century in the South Branch canyon known as the Trough. Since that time, several other bald eagle pairs have made the canyon their nesting site and summer home, and soaring, perching and hunting bald eagles have become a common sight to canoeists, anglers, and passengers aboard the Potomac Eagle excursion trains passing through the Trough.

“We advertise that eagles are seen on at least 90 percent of our trips, but it’s been closer to 100 percent during the past six years,” said Dan Snyder of Richwood, a retired locomotive engineer and a founder and co-owner of the Potomac Eagle, now in its 25th year of operation along the South Branch. While the excursion train passes through lush farm country, rolls past farm houses dating back to the 1790s, and provides armchair access to the rugged natural beauty of the Trough, it’s the eagles that give the railroad a tourism niche…

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