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BIG STEP FOR THE TRAIL
SoVaNow.com / December 23, 2013Next month, outdoor enthusiasts can look forward to enjoying the longest stretch, by far, of the Tobacco Heritage Trail as it comes together across Southside Virginia.
Sometime in January, a 16.23 mile segment from the outskirts of South Hill to the Town of Lawrenceville will open, almost doubling the trail’s existing length. The new portion links segments in La Crosse and Lawrenceville and extends the trail eight-tenths of a mile west towards South Hill.
The work is basically done, with only a few remaining touches — such as interpretative signs — to add. The new section will undergo a final inspection after the holidays, followed by minor tasks such as compacting loose spots of the aggregate stone surface.
“It’s some sprucing up to do,” explained Trails & Tourism Coordinator Heather Susee with the Southside Planning District Commission.
Three segments of the Tobacco Heritage Trail, envisioned to eventually stretch 150 miles, now exist: a 2.5 mile section in South Boston, from the Halifax County Mill park out past Berry Hill Resorts; the 3.2 mile La Crosse segment; and 2.5 mile Lawrenceville segment. By putting the latter two pieces together, trail backers say they will move closer to their goal of making Southside a destination point for hiking and cycling enthusiasts and equestrians.
“We’re really hoping that when the entire trail is completed, it will be a real footprint in Southside Virginia and we’ll get visitors from all over,” said Susee.
The trail already has drawn considerable interest, she said. Recently, a Tennessee man who wanted to know more about plans for the Tobacco Heritage Trail contacted Susee about vacationing in the area — demonstrating the trail’s potential to draw people from far and wide, she said.
Trail users will enjoy several new amenities with the opening of the La Crosse-to-Lawrenceville stretch:
One of the most scenic spots is the 300-foot high crossing over the Meherrin River, made possible with the installation of a pre-fab, modular bridge span. To fit into the tight confines of the riverbed, the bridge was fashioned out of three separate pieces, with cranes positioned on each side of the river to snap the segments together.
“The right of way was so thin they didn’t have a lot of room to work, so they assembled it in pieces over the river and put it in place,” said Susee.
The 16-mile-plus stretch will include what Susee calls “our first foray into the whole restroom enterprise.” Waterless, “sweet-smelling” toilets have been placed inside four solar-powered enclosures, providing a low-maintenance solution to an outdoor convenience need. Susee described the attractive wood-frame restroom facilities as “a kind of a glorified outhouse.”
There will be new interpretative signs, horse-mounting benches, parking, picnic areas and trail access points. Two trailheads are being added: on Atlantic Street in La Crosse, and on Evans Creek Road near the Meherrin River. The river park includes a large parking area, benches, picnic tables, trash cans and a restroom. Eventually, the park may become an access point for the new Meherrin River blueway paddling trail, which is currently accessible from the Whittles Mill/Max B. Crowder Memorial Park on Whittles Mill Road, off Route 47.
Along with off-road trail addition, the Tobacco Heritage Trail is gaining a five-mile, on-road portion from Rocky Branch Road to Goodes Ferry Road in the Town of South Hill. The on-road trail segment will rest in the road shoulder. “I wish it could be an extended bike lane, but that wasn’t in the cards,” said Susee.
The cost of this latest addition to the Tobacco Heritage Trail is $4 million, funded entirely by the 2009 federal stimulus bill. Other sections of trail have been built primarily with VDOT grant money and local contributions.
The willingness of localities to pitch in money determines the order of the trail’s piece-by-piece construction, said Susee: “Whatever area can provide the funding will get the next section.” Towards that end, the next phase will take place in Boydton, which will be gaining a one-mile segment from Washington Street to Prison Road, near the shuttered Mecklenburg Correctional Center facility. Susee said she hopes the bidding for that project will take place in early 2014.
Roanoke River Rails to Trails, Inc., the parent entity of the Tobacco Heritage Trail, has secured the land for a two-mile extension of the South Boston trail, but the Halifax County Board of Supervisors opted not to seek VDOT grant funds to undertake the project this year.
In Mecklenburg and Brunswick, plans are already underway to celebrate the new La Crosse-to-Lawrenceville addition. Susee said a trail friends group in Brunswick is tentatively planning to stage a 13-mile, half-marathon run/walk with the formal grand opening of the trail section, planned for the spring.
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