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Plans move forward for longer trail / August 22, 2019

With plans already afoot to extend the Tobacco Heritage westward, Halifax County is seeking grant money to run the recreational trail out even further.

Halifax County has applied for $200,000 from the Tobacco Region Revitalization Commission to fund Phase II of the tobacco trail expansion, which would build on Phase I — the construction of 1.6 miles of trail from the current end point at Berry Hill out to Mirey Creek. That work is slated to begin in the fall, with completion expected in 2020.

The Phase II work, if funding is approved, would add another half-mile to the trail and take it past Mirey Creek, necessitating the construction of a pedestrian bridge. Phase II also envisions the creation of a second trailhead access and parking site on River Road. Currently, the Cotton Mill trailhead park is the sole access point for public use of the tobacco trail.

If Phase II funding is approved, the South Boston stretch will roughly double in length from the existing 2.5 miles. The Phase II grant application envisions that the work would be completed by late June 2023.

The Berry Hill-to-Mirey Creek Phase I expansion work is fully funded through grants previously obtained from VDOT and the Tobacco Commission.

The Phase II construction from Miry Creek to the proposed River Road trailhead will include a bridge over the tributary and a ten-foot wide, ADA-accessible gravel path. Currently the Phase II project is in the design stage, with only 25 percent of that work having been completing due to design changes.

Originally, the Phase II trail addition was going to run from Miry Creek to Roger’s Island. Surveys of the area, however, revealed that trail users would not be able to view the Dan River or Roger’s Island from the planned end point. For that reason, trail planners are trying to negotiate with a private landowner to acquire land for a trail head at River Road.

The expansion of the Tobacco Heritage Trail is touted as a key component of Halifax County’s efforts to attract tourism — a pitch that has received a favorable reception from the Tobacco Commission in prior grant awards.

Jimmy Walters, who serves as board chair for the nonprofit Roanoke River Rails to Trails, Inc., said that interest in the Tobacco Heritage Trail is on the rise, even as federal transportation dollars dry up for new recreational trail construction.

In the application for funding from the Tobacco Commission, grant writers note “this project parallels economic development strategies identified in the Southside Planning District Commission 2018 Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy (CEDS), the Halifax County Comprehensive Plan, and the Virginia State Tourism Plan, all of which see the Tobacco Heritage Trail as an economic driver for tourism dollars.”

Walters echoes this view and hailed the tourism potential of a trail system that encourages birding, nature studies, trail riding and hiking. As the Tobacco Heritage Trail grows, it could play host to cycling, running or even triathlon events.

The Tobacco Heritage Trail, as envisioned in 2008, would consist of continuous corridor across Southern Virginia using 160 miles of abandoned railroad right-of-way and 110 miles of on-road and other trail stretches. The reality lags well behind the dream: today, the longest stretch of trail runs 17 miles from Lawrenceville to La Crosse through Brunswick and eastern Mecklenburg counties. The three other disconnected segments are short stretches: 2.5 miles in South Boston, more than a mile in Victoria, and 1.1 miles in Boydton.

Walters is pulling for Halifax County to receive Tobacco Commission funding, and for the State of Virginia to assume a greater role in new trail construction. Halifax County’s application for trail funding has been submitted to the Southside Economic Development committee of the Tobacco Commission. The full Commission will meet Oct. 10.

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They can't maintain the existing trail, so why would anyone want to build MORE?!?! This is a fine example of the Fleecing of America and should be called out

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