While the coronavirus pandemic has caused millions of Virginians to remain socially distant, it has also sent thousands more into the great outdoors and on trails.
But with the increase of visitors on Virginia trails, some organizations are looking to Gov. Ralph Northam to address long-needed issues with the trail system.
“Well I would think right now you’ve seen with [the coronavirus] impact of how many people are using the trails,” said Cat Anthony, president of the Virginia Trails Alliance. “People are getting out there and trying to be active…but that also highlights some needs.”
The Virginia Trails Alliance sent a letter to Northam in July addressing some of the needs for trails across the state. The letter first called for the funding of new trails and maintenance existing ones, which Anthony said was the most important request.
“So first off maintenance is a huge issue for trails and trail systems,” she said. “Usually there’s money for building them but then maintaining it after is difficult.”
The letter asks for a funding source of $25 million for maintenance and creation of new trails, which could directly impact trails such as the Birthplace of America Trail.
The Birthplace of America Trail is an on-going project to connect a multi-use trail to the Virginia Capital Trail in South Hampton Roads. If completed, the trail would run from Jamestown, where the Capital Trail currently ends, and cross the James River via ferry into Surry County, eventually ending at the Virginia Beach Oceanfront.
The project hasn’t made much headway in recent months as the pandemic has caused funding sources to shift.
Tom Howard, a member of the Tidewater Trails Alliance, said the project is more important now than ever.
“What we expect is that habits are being formed and new lifestyles are being formed because people are going to the trails more than ever before,” he said. “So now we’re at the point where citizens can advocate for this infrastructure.”
Howard said the Birthplace of America Trail is basically the centerpiece of connecting the ends of three trails in the area. While the effort has been ongoing for years, the connection of these trails has become more significant because of increased traffic and economic factors.
For example, Howard said a connected trail infrastructure will bring in more businesses to the area as well as create a lighter vehicle traffic pattern as more people use their bikes to get to work and other places.
He said for every dollar invested in cycling infrastructure, the region earns $4.60 annually.
The project is in planning phases, which can be difficult because it runs through so many localities that have to all be on the same page.
“There’s nothing more frustrating than to have a lack of coordinated effort where once a bicycle trail leaves a locality and there’s nothing picking it up at the end,” Howard said. “So we are the singular voice to make sure all these alignments match so there’s a seamless change.”
But as more and more people hit the trails and start forming a lifestyle associated with them, groups like the Virginia Trails Alliance are hoping the additions and changes will be addressed.
Anthony said new trails take years to be constructed. For example, the Virginia Capital Trail took about a decade to complete and that was considered a speedy pace.
Since sending a letter to Northam, Anthony said the organization has had a response from Matthew Strickler, the secretary of Natural Resources, who has agreed to meet with the organization and discuss some of these needs.
“We’re trying to take a cooperative effort to make sure this stuff evolves into a workable active transportation system,” Howard said. “You have to have a connected network.”
YOU MIGHT ALSO WANT TO CHECK OUT THESE STORIES: