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In Halifax, a trail friends organization aims for more
SoVaNow.com / April 17, 2014With the eastern portion of the Tobacco Heritage Trail now stretching 17 miles through fields and woods, what are the prospects for expanding South Boston’s 2.5 mile segment?
It’s a question that remains much on the minds of the trail’s local boosters, who have formed a Friends organization to see what they can do to enhance South Boston’s “fantastic little gem tucked away down by the river,” in the words of the group’s president, Audra Buchanan Webb.
Roanoke River Rails to Trails, Inc., the parent organization of the Tobacco Heritage Trail, has acquired two miles of right-of-way to lengthen the existing South Boston trail west from its endpoint near Berry Hill Resort. However, Halifax County supervisors opted last year not to seek an $800,000 VDOT grant to pay for the trail extension, citing the cost to the county of putting up matching funds for the project.
The Tobacco Heritage Trail-Halifax County friends group has sprung up with its own Facebook page, a freshly anointed set of officers and a cadre of volunteers who are kicking around ideas for special events to promote the trail. What they need most, though, is money.
By forming the friends group, trail backers hope to accomplish two objectives: improve the chances of landing outside grant funding, and build community support for help from local governments.
“The more popular the trail is to the residents, the more likely we can ask for matching funds from the town and county administrators. As of now, it’s not a big priority for them,” said Webb.
Roanoke River Rails to Trails and the local friends organization also are working to lower the costs of trail construction — a stumbling block cited last year by Halifax County Administrator Jim Halasz when the supervisors turned down the VDOT money.
By building the trail to less exacting specifications than what VDOT requires, Halifax County potentially could save money — although it’s an open question whether there’s another source of grant funding that can take the place of VDOT.
Heather Susee, trail coordinator with the Southside Planning District Commission in South Hill, said Roanoke River Rails to Trails, Inc. is studying the example of the Town of Victoria, in Lunenburg County, which has built a so-called “primitive” trail without the use of VDOT funding.
She said the 2.5 mile Victoria trail is comparable to what has been built along the Tobacco Heritage Trail thus far. VDOT has “some particular and strict standards that we have to adhere to for trail construction. We’re thinking if there’s another way to get the trail constructed, it could be cheaper than what we’ve done so far,” said Susee.
The Victoria trail was built primarily with grant funding from the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation. The town is working to develop a connecting segment to Kenbridge, which would give Lunenburg about 10 miles of unbroken, off-road trail.
The new portion of the Tobacco Heritage Trail that opens Tuesday gives eastern Mecklenburg and western Brunswick counties a 17-mile off-road segment. It’s the most fully developed portion of the Tobacco Heritage Trail, which is envisioned to run 150 miles through Halifax, Mecklenburg and Brunswick counties.
Roanoke River Rails to Trails, Inc. hopes the trail’s longer length will further enhance its tourist appeal and popularity and make other communities “more interested in opening their own sections,” said Susee.
In South Boston and Halifax County, the local friends group is actively working to build community support and usage, said Webb. “We’re working on several social activities on the trail this summer and fall.
“It will be amazing,” she vowed.
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