Construction is underway for what will be a roughly 4-mile network of natural trails just north of Glade Road on the outskirts of Blacksburg.
The project is on a 334-acre property on Brush Mountain that local conservation group, the New River Land Trust, bought with the aid of a $1.2 million grant. The money originated from payments generated from the controversial Mountain Valley Pipeline to offset surface impacts caused by the energy project’s construction.
The New River Land Trust also used the money to buy another neighboring 218-acre tract that will eventually have trails, too, according to plans.
The Brush Mountain project is expected to further boost the outdoor amenities available in the New River Valley and to improve connections with entities such as Huckleberry Trail and the Poverty Creek Trail System in the Jefferson National Forest.
“Right now, the work being done is focused on Property 1,” John Eustis, the New River Land Trust’s executive director, wrote in an email. “We are working on getting approval to work on Property 2, but when that will happen is unknown.”
The work on the 334-acre tract is being divided into two phases. The first phase will result in 2.5 miles of new trail, 1.6 miles of which is already complete, Eustis said.
Project leaders estimate that the first phase will be done by the end of September. The second phase will approximately add another 1.3 miles for a total 3.8 to 4 miles, Eustis said.
There also exists a 1.7-mile long old roadbed on the first property that is being graded and hardened in places for greater durability, Eustis said.
“Eighty percent of the road work is done,” he said. “It will be the main artery of the trail system and provide administrative, emergency services and wildfire response and mitigation access to Property 1.”
The first phase is costing approximately $40,000, Eustis said. The bulk of the funds for that phase came from individuals and local businesses in the community, he said.
The cost could have been much higher, but the involvement of small volunteer groups is greatly helping reduce the cost, Eustis said.
“Note this volunteer effort is being run with consideration of COVID-19, including following federal COVID-19 recommendations for volunteer trail work,” he said.
Blacksburg town officials are eagerly awaiting the completion of the project.
“It’s one of the most exciting things that’s happened for the town in terms of expanding our trail system and the offerings to Blacksburg and even Montgomery County residents [outside town limits],” said town Councilman John Bush, an avid cyclist. “I can’t wait until I’m able to go out there and hike around and kind of check the property out.”
Blacksburg Mayor Leslie Hager-Smith touted how the new network will complement the other existing trails.
“Obviously it will add to a very robust network of trails and facilities in the New River Valley,” she said. “We are delighted to see it coming together. I didn’t imagine it would come together so quickly.”
Beth Lohman, who works for the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality, said she was one of the co-facilitators for a stakeholder work group last year that helped shape the project’s vision. The group, she said, consisted of walkers, bikers, horseback riders and naturalists, among other outdoor enthusiasts.
Lohman, the wife of Blacksburg Councilman Jerry Ford Jr., said the talks led to the development of a master plan largely written by the group.
“They worked very hard to strike a balance and equity across all the user groups,” Lohman said. “They didn’t want anyone to feel like this is going to be strictly a park system for one type of user. We wanted to accommodate the interest of a broad variety of users in this space and make everyone feel welcomed in the space.”
While the New River Land Trust bought the Brush Mountain properties, the tracts of land aren’t slated to remain in the conservation group’s hands on a long-term basis.
Plans call for the eventual transfer of 97 acres of the first property to the U.S. Forest Service. The remaining 238 acres — along with all 218 acres of the nearby second piece of land — will be transferred to the town of Blacksburg.
Funds to add the trails on the second property will come from the community and possibly grants, Eustis said. That land is located off Meadowbrook Drive, almost directly across from Blacksburg’s Heritage Park.
Eustis said he’s still unsure exactly how many miles of trail will go on that property.
“The best that I can is about the same 5 miles for that property, also,” he said.
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