As of April 6, 2012, the High Bridge itself is open.
Yesterday we announced a preview ride of a new section of the High Bridge Trail, which will open to the public June 6. Here’s another report from that ride, by Ric Losey.
DATELINE: May23, 2009, High Bridge Trail State Park, Farmville, Va.
by Ric Losey
Bicycle tire tracks and signs of use on the new High Bridge Trail State Park at last! No doubt that was the sentiment of park Director Eric Hougland as he stood aside a newly opened portion of the western end of the trail that runs out past Farmville and makes a bee-line for Prospect watching members of RABA (Richmond Area Bicycling Association) roll back into the trail head after the public’s first official use of the new section.
One could only imagine the thoughts passing through Mr. Houglands mind as he finally bears witness to the hard work his department has put into this project. Citizens on the trail for the first time, must have been like watching a son or daughter during a recital. And there is no doubt that his pride is well deserved, the trail is an instant success and a thing of beauty from start to finish. Mr. Hougland’s department has created a world-class marvel that will become a tourist destination.
Southside Virginia has become the proud recipient of the country’s newest rail trail park, and in it’s wake… a rebirth of the entire region once word gets round of what the park has to offer. Traditionally in other areas where rail way corridors have been converted for use as rails-to-trails parks a spark of economic growth was immediate and lasting. Everything from major hotels and services to your basic mom and pop type of bed and breakfasts, restaurants, and outfitters ranging from bike shops to hiking gear. Naturally, with the arrival of tourism comes the arrival of commerce.
The Reality of It
As with all public projects of this magnitude, there has been some dissent. Adjoining land owners have mixed feelings about their back yards being converted into a tourist region. Many of them have enjoyed an isolated stretch of what is the single most beautiful region of Southside Virginia since forever, and were hoping that the rail corridor would revert back to local land owners upon it’s abandonment in 2004. The canyons that the rail corridor created are an environment all their own, each with it’s own diverse wildlife and scenery. These hidden valleys are no longer the domain of a few people, and are now laid bear for the whole world to see, so naturally some are against it. The early stages of the project saw issues with local homeowners’ dogs on the trail and access way disputes. You could imagine looking out your door into what was once no-mans land and seeing whole families strolling along.
Statistics reveal that this is a common reaction in communities where these linear parks are built, but history has shown invariably that once it sets in a potential gold mine comes with these parks, feelings change. After all, the good of the many always out-weighs the good of the few. It is this sentiment that we must remember when we assume our responsibilities as users of the trail. Remember to respect real property boundaries and posted land, in so doing we will avoid upsetting adjacent landowners and avoid these issues. And above all, adopt the same approach that other regions who have become recipients of state parks have: DO NO HARM! Leave no trace of your ever having been there.
The First Look
On Saturday, May 23rd a group of area cyclists and the RABA cycling club was invited by Mr. Hougland to come and be among the first to explore the newly opened regions west of Farmville starting at mile marker 151 at the Third St. bridge and ending at mile post 160.9 at Prospect. The group massed at the Tuggle Rd trail head in anticipation of an exciting journey into “the outback”. So named because for the last 120 years this area was an exclusive rail corridor owned and operated by Norfolk Southern rail way. As such, only railroad employees and authorized personnel had access, unless you were actually riding on a train you couldn’t even see it because the surrounding tree growth completely covers it on both sides.
The amazing thing is that now it is open for the public to enjoy. It is like a cross-section of the land opened up for us to explore. Mighty oak trees stand alongside the old rail bed in their vigil, guarding the wonder of this area and keeping it’s beauty hidden, but no longer! Examples of the isolation of this zone are everywhere… telegraph poles erected in the 1900’s still bear antique ceramic insulators. The original cement mile markers built by Norfolk Southern are in pristine condition and are considered the official trail markers. Each one of them are a historic landmark in their own right and a wonder to behold. To either sides of the trail are remnants of the old rail way signal system — signs and devices used by the engineers to determine their status along the rail system. In other places these treasures have been carted off to adorn private collections… but they have been spared that fate here. And you can be sure that here they shall remain!
Now the No Trespassing signs are coming down! Bear in mind that until now, the trail essentially was a grown over and restricted stretch of land that nature had completely taken back. Because of this the wildlife that we witnessed along the way was breath taking at times. A gray fox darted across the trail in front of us as we headed into the darker regions that pass beneath the Rte 15 overpass. Deer were everywhere, and an incredibly vast array of birds were singing to us from the trees…hey, what are you people doing here? It was almost surreal!
The trail bed is a delightful and forgiving mixture of crushed limestone and sand. The nature of a rail corridor limits inclines to a 6% grade, hardly noticeable. And as mentioned before, keep an eye out for relics of the old rail road, they are everywhere.
What About the Future?
Park director Hougland explained that the gem of the trail, High Bridge itself has been reconfigured into a separate project complete with it’s own funding. This was only recently made possible when a federal grant aimed at developing the economy of the area made an estimated $2 million available. This frees up other funds in the parks budget making better facilities and increased parking availability a reality. His estimation of a time frame for completion of the bridge is 18 months. The missing mid-section that ties Farmville, the outback and the completed 4 mile section in use since August of 2008 is near completion and is scheduled for a grand opening this June, 6th in recognition of National Trails Day, at which time an estimated 30 miles of trail will become a reality.
One of the purposes of this journey was to determine if the park is more suited as a wilderness adventure, or a family park. We have determined that the park is both! The sections that run through Farmville and near the High Bridge are filled with stores, picnic tables, and facilities. Making them more then friendly for any family outing. And the parts west, what we are calling the outback, is better then anything in the state with respect to endurance and mileage. Tackling those miles west of Farmville should appear on your list of things to do if you consider yourself an athlete, or are in any way tuned to physical fitness.
Negotiations with the International Mountain Biking Association (IMBA) are currently underway aimed at attracting a National Mountain Bike Patrol (NMBP) post based at High Bridge Trail. We have been in contact with Will Sanford – IMBA RLC, and he is gracious enough to serve as a sort of advisor for members of the High Bridge Trail Club. He has put the club in contact with Chris Scott, the Virginia IMBA state rep and member of the IMBA Regional Leadership Council. The NMBP will utilize HBTC members to establish patrols made up of highly skilled First Responders, bike mechanics and land management representatives that assist users of the trail. A local patrol is considered vital for the safety and comfort of the public.
Recommendations for properly outfitting your bicycle include the following:
- Helmets required!
- Any mountain, or hybrid bike. Training wheels and scooters are not recommended.
- Any road bike with 700c wheels fitted with 32mm or greater tread.
It is also vital that users of the trail recognize that no water is available at any of the trail heads or along the way. However several stores and service stations dot the landscape in the areas of the trail close to towns and where there are intersections. And porta-pots are available at four trail heads: Osborne Rd, River Rd, Prospect and Tuggle Rd.
At this time we would like to thank club chairman Bud Vye of the Richmond Area Bicycling Association and the RABA contingent for coming out and joining us on our excursion and generally taking an interest in the trail. We look forward to RABA making our park a vital portion of their regularly scheduled events.
Please see yesterday’s article for more information about the High Bridge Trail, including links.