Smith to become more accessible

June 20, 2006

Bulletin Staff Writer

Water enthusiasts will find it easier to enjoy the Smith River after construction of two new access points along the river is complete.

The access points in Bassett and Ridgeway are expected to be ready for use by late July or early August, according to Katherine Hebert, Virginia planning and program director for the Dan River Basin Association.

At the one-acre access points, "you can safely park your car, put in your boat and go," she said.

They will be ideal spots for kayaks or canoes to be put in or taken out of the Smith River, and Hebert said fishing enthusiasts also can use the access points for wading.

The two facilities are part of a Rivers and Trails master plan that is being fine-tuned and will include a dozen or so access points at 4-mile intervals from Philpott Dam to Spray Mills in North Carolina, Hebert said.

As the two new sites in Bassett and Ridgeway near completion, officials are eyeing a third property in the Fieldale area to build another access point, she said.

"We came up with these areas based on what canoers and kayakers are doing," Hebert said. "They know where the good spaces are."

One of the sites under construction is near the J.D. Bassett Furniture plant, courtesy of a donated easement from Bassett Furniture, Hebert said.

She estimates that facility will accommodate up to 20 vehicles when complete.

A second access point is near Marrowbone Creek, on property already owned by the county, Hebert said. About 10 vehicles can be parked there.

Before, parking was common along the road or on private land "and you took a chance. You never knew if your vehicle was safe" or would be in the same place upon returning, Hebert said.

Water enthusiasts also often had to climb down steep embankments while carrying their equipment, she said, but that also will change when construction is complete.

The access points will provide "a safe and public opportunity to get in and enjoy the river," Hebert said.

Both facilities are built to minimize damage to the river and the land, she said.

Trash cans will be included at the sites, but there are no planned picnic areas, she said, adding that the sites will be patrolled by the Henry County Sheriff's Office.

Basic safety information also will be provided, Hebert said.

Construction costs are estimated at $5,000 per site, including signs and developing the parking areas.

The county paid for both sites, and county departments, including mapping and engineering, helped with the project, Hebert said.

When complete, the access points will be included in and maintained by the county's Parks and Recreation Department, she added.

The Rivers and Trails master plan also includes walking trails, some along old railways and other picturesque parts of the county. The entire effort is geared towards promoting tourism and various portions of the local community.

"We hope to put together a paddling trail to show on brochures" and distribute at various locations along the trail, Hebert said. Brochures also would include information about the area and historical facts.

The county also is focused on developing a 75-acre tract with the Virginia Museum of Natural History.

The area is less than a mile downstream from the Marrowbone Creek site, Hebert said, and future development will include hiking trails and an outdoor classroom for use by students at the museum and for visitors.

"Funding is up in the air right now" for many future projects, Hebert said, but officials are working to identify possible funding sources.

She is hopeful funds will be found because the concept has been embraced by the community.

"Overall, response has been very positive," Hebert said. "I think people see this as one of the ways to revitalize Martinsville and Henry County, and they're very appreciative."


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