Ground is broken for trail

April 2, 2010

Area residents should have a new trail to walk on later this year.

Officials are hoping people from out of town will come and use it, too.

Wednesday afternoon, a groundbreaking ceremony was held for the Dick & Willie Passage, a paved, 4.5-mile path that will extend from near the El Parral restaurant on Commonwealth Boulevard east to near a former chemical plant on Fisher Street. About 50 people attended the ceremony.

The walking/nature trail will be developed along a former stretch of Norfolk Southern railroad that once was part of the defunct Danville & Western line often referred to by longtime local residents as the “Dick & Willie.”

No local money will be spent on the $1.3 million project, which officials said will be completed this fall.

Instead, the project received $800,000 in federal transportation funds, plus $400,000 in federal funds obtained by 9th District U.S. Rep. Rick Boucher, D-Abingdon, and $100,000 from the Virginia Tobacco Indemnification and Community Revitalization Commission.

Martinsville Mayor Kathy Lawson said “our community is very appreciative” of Boucher’s efforts.

Fifth District U.S. Rep. Tom Perriello, D-Albemarle County, also was involved in securing federal funds for the project, officials said.

Near Pine Street, the trail will intersect another walking trail installed along an abandoned railroad spur uptown. Wednesday’s ceremony was held at the juncture. Attendees parked at the former Martinsville-Henry County Rescue Squad building off Hooker Street and walked about a half-mile along the currently graveled railroad bed to the groundbreaking site.

The new trail will be part of a local trail system that eventually will become part of the Beaches to Bluegrass Trail System planned from Hampton Roads to Big Stone Gap, according to Henry County Board of Supervisors Chairman Debra Buchanan.

Some other trails in the state are more than 50 miles in length and attract thousands of visitors from their regions and beyond each year, Boucher said.

“I think we can do exactly the same thing here” and lure visitors who enjoy walking and hiking along trails, he said.

That would boost economic development, officials said, because visitors would spend money locally when they come to use the trail.

Also, walking trails are major factors in the local quality of life, said Del. Ward Armstrong, D-Collinsville and the House minority leader.

When they look for places to locate, “businesses will look somewhere else” when they think local quality of life is not suitable for their workers, he said.

Both Boucher and Armstrong said they will try and help the county and city secure more funds to further develop the local trail system.

Buchanan said the two localities “will continue to work together” on the trail and “many other projects.” She said cooperation between the county and city is “as strong as it’s ever been,” crediting employees and elected officials.

Mentioning that people enjoy walking for the health benefits as well as “the pure pleasure of it,” Lawson said the Dick & Willie Passage will provide “more opportunities to the walkers of our community.”

While growing up, Lawson lived less than a mile from the railroad bed and often watched trains make their way to local factories. Back then, she said, nobody knew the trains would someday quit using the tracks near uptown.

“Today we stand, literally, on history,” she said, noting that an abandoned railroad bed is being given a new purpose.

Armstrong, a railroad enthusiast, owns a piece of that history. He showed a Dick & Willie railroad spike that someone who once walked along the railroad bed found and gave to him.

He joked that the spike is legally considered to be “abandoned property” and as a lawyer, he knows he can lawfully keep it.


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