Trails in the RVA

Trails in the RVA: A Call to Action

Those of us in the Metro Richmond area are so lucky to live in a region with so much access to trails! Richmond and the surrounding areas have much to offer for outdoor adventure, whether you are biking, running, hiking, or dog walking.

The North Bank Trail, part of the James River Park trail system.
Hollywood Cemetery is on the left; Richmond’s skyline is in the distance; the James River is to the right.

Personally, I am in awe of the James River Park trail system. Until I started running, I had no idea the vast network of trails surrounding the James River existed. It’s still tough for me to navigate these trails on my own, as it’s quite a maze, but I really enjoy getting together with friends to run a few miles with amazing views of downtown Richmond and the river. In the spring and summer, Mother Nature shows off her wildflowers. And I have come face to face with a buck near Forest Hill! And on my run this week, we saw a blue heron.

Wildflowers near the T. Pott Bridge in April 2019
A blue heron as seen on the trail.

The North Bank Trail in the James River Park system will link you to the Tyler Potterfield Bridge to Manchester and will also link you to the Capital Trail. The Capital Trail will take you all the way to Jamestown.

The RVA skyline and CSX rail line as seen from the T. Pott bridge.
The James River was moving that day!

I remember when the Capital Trail was in the development stages. I was not yet running or cycling in 2005 when it was first started, so I was indifferent about how it would affect me. But now that I do these things, I’m really glad it’s here! The full trail wasn’t open until 2015; the portion mainly along Route 5 was the final part to be completed. One of my good running friends worked for a company who helped one of the plantations along route 5 develop their restaurant in Charles City. I recall her telling the story of convincing the owners to have outdoor seating to accommodate runners and cyclists, knowing that outdoor enthusiasts would become patrons of their business. She was right!

Ruffner Hall at Longwood University, Farmville, VA.

Outside of the Metro Richmond area, the little college town of Farmville is enjoying the benefits of its new trail, the High Bridge State Park trail. Downtown Farmville is at the trail head. I am a graduate of Longwood College, now University, and back in the 90’s, the railroad track upon which the trail is based still existed. The tracks are now long gone, replaced with flat, pea gravel trails. The highlight is the High Bridge itself, towering over the Appomattox River. The views are outstanding! The trail is host to several running events throughout the year, including the High Bridge Trail Ultra 50k and 30k.

“Joanie on the Stony” inside the Rotunda in Ruffner Hall.
Longwood University.

My daughter and I were in Farmville last weekend, as she has been accepted into the Cormier Honors College at Longwood University. We were visiting during accepted students’ day. She is still trying to make a decision as to which school she will attend in the fall. We had a nice breakfast with a presentation about the honors program, met the dean of the honors college, and had a private tour of the honors dorm. Crossing my fingers that she chooses my school!

One of the murals in Downtown Farmville.

Anyway, we spent the afternoon exploring the quaint downtown Farmville district. It was bustling with shoppers. Other than its two universities, the other being Hampden-Sydney, Farmville is known for Green Front Furniture, which now occupies a dozen buildings downtown. One of the places we visited was Pairet’s, a screen print/t-shirt shop, to buy my daughter a Longwood shirt. I struck up a conversation with the gentleman who was helping us. He just happened to be the owner. I remarked about how much the town has changed for the better since my time there in the 90’s. He agreed, crediting the change to the new trail. He said there was a lot of opposition from the business owners in town initially, but now that the trail is here, all of those business owners are thrilled with the economic benefit it has brought.

The characteristics of Farmville are very similar to my little Town of Ashland just north of Richmond, home to Randolph-Macon College, where my husband earned his degree. We already have a few short trails in town, and now we have the opportunity for a major trail, too! The Ashland to Petersburg Trail is in the development stages, and, obviously, the Town of Ashland is the trail head. The first part of the trail in Ashland is already complete, starting at Carter Park with a multi-use path that essentially leads to nowhere, or so I’ve thought for 2 years of running the paved, multi-use path that leads to an industrial site! But just beyond that lies the old Ashland to Richmond trolley line, part of which is about a half mile of existing trail which is not marked from Carter Park side, but from Gwathmey Church Road. In progress is a boardwalk which will connect the multi-use path to the existing trolley line trail.  

The end of the multi-use path from Carter Park in the Town of Ashland.
This is the stretch of trail from the multi-use path which is under construction.
It may not look impressive from this angle,
but the steel rods will apparently support a boardwalk type path to the existing trolley line trail.
North end of the existing designated Ashland trolley line trail, which is about a half mile long.
This will take you to Gwathmey Church Road.
The south end of the trail at Gwathmey Church Road.
Directly across the street, this path continues, but is not marked as public trail.
This path, however, will hopefully be developed into the ATP.

This trolley line runs from Ashland through the South Anna District of Hanover County, and then into Henrico County roughly parallel to Greenwood Road. Some of this line is adjacent to Lavender Fields Farm, a favorite business of mine in Henrico. They even discuss it on their farm tours! My husband’s grandparents used to talk about taking the trolley into Richmond from Ashland to shop and work. The trail will extend to cross the Capital Trail, but will also eventually take you to Petersburg via Chesterfield County and Colonial Heights. The proposed path will be over 40 miles long! The fact that the ATP will cross the Capital Trail means that you could potentially bike from Ashland or Petersburg to Jamestown with little vehicular traffic.

When I first learned about this project, I was attending an interest meeting for Bike Walk RVA Academy through Sports Backers. If you’ve followed my blog, you know how much I appreciate Sports Backers and all they do for the Richmond Metro area. That’s why I became an ambassador for them and why I’m a Marathon Training Team coach. But between these things was Bike Walk Academy for Hanover. I had to apply, then attend an 8 week long advocacy training program, from which Bike Walk Hanover was born. I’m still actively involved in this organization. We work to promote active and healthy living in our county by advocating for safe roadways and organizing community events. If you live in Hanover, visit our Facebook page, and see how you can get involved!

The Ashland to Petersburg Trail will be a wonderful, important addition to the Metro Richmond trail system. Its development will help promote living an active and healthy lifestyle, help preserve the nostalgia and history of the old trolley line, promote economic sustainability for the localities and businesses along its route, and will give runners and cyclists a safe place for activity other than our increasingly busy streets.

If you are a resident of the Town of Ashland, Hanover County, Henrico County, the City of Richmond, Chesterfield County, Colonial Heights, or Petersburg, and you love the idea of this trail as much as I do, please reach out to your leaders for support! Change can be good, but our leaders are more willing to support change if they know that their constituents want it. All it takes is a quick email. You can even copy the paragraph above, which I’ve bolded for you, and include it in your correspondence!

Town of Ashland Town Council

Hanover County Board of Supervisors

Henrico County Board of Supervisors

Richmond City Council

Chesterfield County Board of Supervisors

Colonial Heights City Council

Petersburg City Council

Don’t live in the Metro Richmond area? Don’t have trails like this where you live, but want them? Contact your area government leaders. Contact your local cycling and running clubs to find allies. Get organized. The more your leaders know about what their constituents wish to see in their community, the greater chance you have of turning your desire for access to safe places to run, walk, or cycle into reality.

Published by annecreates

I am a physical therapist, wife, mom, runner, artist, and vegan. I'm passionate about helping others find wellness, speaking about the human experience, and in fighting for social justice. Assistant Coach for the Sports Backers Marathon Training Team. Current ambassador for: Boco Gear, SaltStick, SPIbelt, Goodr, Noxgear, and Switch4Good.

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