By Julie Reardon
Happy Trails To Neighbors In Orlean, VA
Long before any of them were acquainted with social networks online, a group of friends and neighbors envisioned opening a series of connected trails in Northwestern Fauquier County near the small village of Orlean. The group, mostly horseback riders and residents of two major roads just north of the village, included hikers, mountain bikers and other outdoor enthusiasts. “It really started as a meet your neighbors sort of thing,” said one of the original founding members, Donn Smith. About that time he’d moved a few miles down the road to a property on acreage that came with a network of trails that had been maintained by the Warrenton Hunt. “We met a lot of our new neighbors on those trails,” he said.
The OCTS mission statement reads, in part, that it is “a non-profit community-based organization of members and friends” who seek to restore trails in the Orlean area to the way it used to be, where private landowners allowed riders and neighbors to traverse their property in a responsible fashion. In turn, OCTS members abide by OCTS trail etiquette and build back up a sense of community in an area that has, over the years, lost some of that ‘neighborhood feel’ that prevailed in earlier days in the area. Membership is limited to residents within a 10 mile radius of Orlean, VA.
The main and largest event is the OCTS Annual Snipe Hunt, which, like the snipe hunt it’s named after, doesn’t really have anything to do with hunting but is rather, a guided trail ride for horseback riders and hikers. Both groups gather for the trail rides and/or hikes to meet each other and explore trails, with a potluck meal after. OCTS has also hosted trips to Charles Town Races, barn dances and bonfires that have been very popular, attracting local politicians as well as neighbors.
There is no publicly available map of the existing and proposed trail system, which is currently about a seven-mile network, and OCTS membership is restricted to residents within its area only. And in this manner, a landowner who agrees to let OCTS members cross his or her land, knows the people using the trails, and the users know and respect the landowner’s wishes and agree to abide by trail etiquette. The cooperation gives both landowner and user a feeling of security that comes from being part of a community. Giving OCTS permission is not a blanket invitation for anyone to use the trails, since only Orlean area residents can be members of OCTS. There are side benefits too: although most of the active members are riders, not all are since most landowners also allow hikers. With the growth and participation of the community, the OCTS has also served to reunite strayed or missing livestock with their owners, as well as quite a few cats and dogs.