October 17, 2005
By MICKEY POWELL
Bulletin Staff Writer
Ellen Jessee envisions a network of trails in Henry County and Martinsville where people can enjoy nature's beauty as they walk or ride their bicycles, not having to cope with traffic along local highways.
Work on the first trail already has started. It will begin near the bridge over the Smith River near the Fieldale ballpark and run about a mile along River Road to a nearby water treatment plant.
Jessee, chairman of the Martinsville-Henry County Rivers and Trails Group, said the Fieldale Demonstration Trail could be extended if it proves popular and resources become available.
She thinks it will become a popular recreation spot. Many people have told her they will use the trail when it is finished, she said.
"Our hope is to eventually have trails all along the river and tie them into each other," she said of the group.
The group is planning a seven-mile trail that would run from Fieldale to Patrick Henry Mall in Martinsville. Its path would take it past Wal-Mart and Lowe's off U.S. 220 Business, Liberty Fair Mall on Commonwealth Boulevard and the train trestle on Liberty Street.
Work on that trail has not yet started.
A path for the Fieldale trail has been cleared, but it is not yet graded. The group is obtaining easements from property owners, Jessee said.
She hopes the trail will be finished by next summer.
Initially, the trail will have a hard-packed gravel surface, but Jessee said it eventually could be paved. It will be wide enough so that people can walk comfortably without being run over by bicyclists, she said.
The group plans to install small signs along both trails to alert walkers and cyclists to interesting plants, animals and attractions, as well as shelters where people can rest or get out of the rain.
"You've got to have rest stops along a seven-mile trail," Jessee laughed.
Construction of the Fieldale trail will cost $25,000 to $30,000, Jessee said. The group is seeking grants to cover the cost but also is accepting donations of money, materials and labor.
She noted that local Boy Scout leaders have expressed interest in building the trail's shelters.
Rivers and Trails received a $5,000 grant from the Virginia Department of Forestry that was put toward planning the Fieldale trail.
The trails will be different from walking tracks in the area, such as one at Jack Dalton Park near Collinsville, because people will be able to travel their entire lengths and encounter different sights, not walk or ride in circles and see the same things over and over again, Jessee said.
The Rivers and Trails Group was organized about a year ago. It stems from an effort by the Southern Environmental Law Center to establish a "natural resources perspective" in the community, based on recommendations in the Market Street Study of the local economy, an information sheet shows.
Jessee said the group's mission is to protect, enhance and promote natural resources in Henry County and Martinsville, enhance residents' quality of life and lure visitors to the area.
Along with planning the trails, the group has produced maps to inventory local natural resources.
The group recently became affiliated with the Dan River Basin Association, based in Rockingham County, N.C. The association aims to preserve natural resources along the Dan, Mayo and Smith rivers. The Mayo runs through southwestern Henry County.
Jessee said the affiliation will prevent duplication of preservation efforts since the two organizations essentially have the same mission.
The group also was awarded a two-year grant totaling $95,000 from The Harvest Foundation to hire a full-time employee. Jessee said the employee, who has not yet been hired, will help keep the group organized, develop a master plan showing where trails should be developed, secure funds for projects and handle communications with the public.
Jessee became chairman of the group, which she estimated has about 30 members, three months ago. She grew up in Rocky Mount and moved to Collinsville several years ago after her husband founded Piedmont Surveying and Design PC, where she works.
A nature lover, she likes to ride her bike on local roads but acknowledges that "most people are scared to" due to the traffic. She also enjoys hiking and kayaking.
"This area has some (natural) resources that are amazing," Jessee said, mentioning Philpott Lake and its scenery as examples.
That is why she wants to help promote and protect those resources.
Her ultimate wish would be to develop a trail that connects with Philpott, but "that's a dream," said Jessee. Her group would have to deal with many landowners to make the dream a reality, she added.
Still, Jessee said the group hopes that trails it establishes eventually will lead to the development of a regional trail system extending into Patrick, Franklin and Pittsylvania counties and Danville.
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