Dick & Willie Trail unveiled

October 12, 2010

Cheers erupted Monday as 9th District U.S. Rep. Rick Boucher vowed to continue to seek federal funds for a trail that he says will help drive local economic development.

The travel industry has become the main economy in both Abingdon and Damascus thanks to the Virginia Creeper Trail, said Boucher, D-Abingdon.

“We can make that happen here. This is just the beginning,” Boucher said to more than 200 people who gathered Monday to celebrate the opening of a new 4.5-mile trail known as the Dick & Willie Passage.

The trail uses a former stretch of the Danville & Western (dubbed the “Dick and Willie”) rail line that runs through parts of the city and county. The line later was acquired by Norfolk Southern, according to Henry County Board of Supervisors Chairman Debra Buchanan.

“The transition from its former life to its new life is remarkable,” Buchanan said.

Boucher helped secure federal funds to pay for the $1.4 million project, which was completely paid for by grants and in-kind donations. The money included $400,000 from the federal government at Boucher’s request, $800,000 from the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) and $111,000 from the Virginia Tobacco Indemnification and Community Revitalization Commission.

Henry County, Martinsville and the Henry County Public Service Authority donated in-kind services. Businesses and individuals also donated to and supported the project, Buchanan said.

Commonwealth Transportation Board member Dana Martin said the trail is “a good investment of transportation funds. It’s a good use of money. We will see a return on it.”

The investment will affect health and welfare and will “enhance the quality of life,” which is one of “those intangible things that attracts economic development,” Martin said.

The Dick & Willie Passage includes four trailheads, including the one unveiled Monday on Liberty Street. Parking and restrooms are available along the trail, which will be maintained by the county Parks and Recreation Department, Boucher said.

The 4.5-mile paved trail unveiled Monday extends from El Parral restaurant near Villa Heights to Mulberry Creek east of Martinsville. It is 10 feet wide to allow for both walking and biking, Boucher said.

Part of the Smith River Trail System, it connects with the city’s spur trail leading to uptown Martinsville, and connections are planned with the Fieldale Trail and the Smith River Sports Complex, depending on funding. Boucher noted that he helped secure funds for the system from its earliest phase several years ago.

The new section and other areas of the trail system will “significantly advance Henry County’s tourism economy as well as provide a new recreation opportunity” for local residents, Boucher said.

He said that statement was based on the impact other trails have had. For example, the Virginia Creeper Trail — in Boucher’s home of Abingdon — attracts 500,000 visitors annually, he said.

“One of these days, this trail can do the same,” Boucher said.

Currently, the trail improves the quality of life and therefore will attract businesses to the area, Boucher said.

To attract tourists from around the world, as the Virginia Creeper Trail does, the Dick & Willie Passage must be expanded, he said.

The trail can be expanded to follow the former rail line eastward to the Smith River Sports Complex and then into Danville, Boucher said. It also can be expanded westward, first to Fieldale, and then to Patrick County, he added.

Patrick has received funds to begin work on a section there.

Linking up with trails in both Danville and Patrick County will attract tourists, and that in turn will drive economic development, Boucher said.

However, an expansion will require “more money ... which I’m prepared to go and obtain” when he is re-elected, Boucher said. He added he also will form new partnerships and continue the many he has formed with organizations and agencies that have worked on the project.

“We will not rest until we can do for these counties what other trails have done” in other localities, he said.

Del. Morgan Griffith, a Salem Republican, is challenging the 14-term congressman in the Nov. 2 election.

Martinsville Mayor Kim Adkins and Ellen Jessee of the Martinsville-Henry County Rivers and Trails group spoke during the ceremony. Del. Ward Armstrong, D-Collinsville, and state Sen. Roscoe Reynolds, D-Ridgeway, also attended.

Brad Kinkema, director of the Martinsville-Henry County YMCA, announced that the first Martinsville Half-Marathon/5K run will be held March 26. Part of the course for the run, planned as an annual event, will follow the new trail.

A training program will begin in December, Kinkema said. For more information, visit www.martinsvillehalf marathon.com.


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