Dick & Willie off to running start

December 10, 2010

By MICKEY POWELL - Bulletin Staff Writer

Phil Riggan of Richmond described the Martinsville area’s newest walking and biking trail in one word.

“Perfect,” he said while he and family members walked the Dick & Willie Passage. They were here recently visiting his aunt.

Riggan said efforts are under way to create similar trails in the Richmond area. Now that he has seen what he considers a perfect trail, he said he is “going to go back (to Richmond) and tell them how to do it.”

“It’s wonderful and beautiful,” said his aunt, Marsha Frith of Martinsville.

Along the trail, she said, “you can see the city from a different angle” than people see from local streets and highways.

The paved, 4.5-mile trail opened in mid-October. It runs along a stretch of the former Danville and Western Railroad — which area residents nicknamed the “Dick and Willie” — from near the El Parral restaurant at Villa Heights to Mulberry Creek east of Martinsville.

Federal grants and in-kind donations covered the $1.4 million project.

While most of it is in Martinsville, the trail is being maintained by the Henry County Parks & Recreation Department. Activate Martinsville Henry County, an organization that promotes walking and biking to remain healthy, is offering free use of bicycles to people using the trail on certain days.

No official user counts have been taken so far. Based on what county and Activate employees have seen, however, use of the trail has “exceeded our expectations,” said County Administrator Benny Summerlin.

There are four parking lots along the trail for vehicles. Summerlin said he “always sees cars ... when I drive by” the trailhead at the intersection of Liberty Street and Stultz Road.

Brian Williams, the Dan River Basin Association’s rivers and trails education, outreach and conservation coordinator, said he informally counted about 70 people using the trail when he visited one recent Sunday.

Activate so far has loaned bicycles to trail users “close to 100 times,” said Program Director Jeannie Frisco.

“That’s more than I was expecting,” she said.

Williams said he was “not at all” surprised by those numbers.

Until recently, “people around here never have had access to a really nice trail,” he said. “They’re ready for it.”

He mentioned that he once saw the same thing — large initial crowds — occur on a trail project in Florida in which he was involved.

When a trail opens, “you get a surge of people because they haven’t been on it,” Summerlin said. He thinks the number of trail users could drop as the weather turns colder, he added.

Frisco said she has seen a variety of people using the trail for fitness. They include people in bicycle clubs, families, people walking their dogs and senior citizens, some of whom have been walking with canes.

People have told her they like the trail because it is paved, in a convenient location and lacks really steep inclines, she said. Yet there is enough of an incline on certain stretches “to give you a good workout.”

The trail is attracting people who visit Martinsville from other places. Frisco said Activate staff has talked with trail users from Danville, Richmond, South Boston, Lynchburg, New York and England.

She said she thinks visitors are attracted to the trail because it runs behind The Jameson Inn and is fairly close to some motels in Collinsville.

Henry County Treasurer Scott Grindstaff walked along the trail for the first time on a recent day. He said the trail is “clean, safe and smooth.”

The Martinsville Fire Department has responded to four medical calls related to bicycle accidents along the trail. Each of the accidents resulted in minor injuries such as bumps and bruises, said Deputy Fire Chief Kris Shrader.

Shrader said the trail is safe for bicyclists. But when biking along it, he said, they should “use common sense” such as controlling their speed when going downhill.

He added that the fire department soon plans to buy an all-terrain vehicle that will help medics reach places along the trail quicker.

Little crime apparently has occurred on the trail so far. Martinsville Police Chief Mike Rogers said police responded to a vehicle break-in at the Liberty Street trailhead, but he thinks that was an isolated incident.

The only other incident of mischief on the trail, to his knowledge, was a report of an intoxicated person, he said.

Activate hired a security officer who patrolled the trail for about a month. But the officer’s services no longer are being used, Frisco said, “because so many people are using” the trail, which helps deter crime.

Rogers agreed, saying “there is safety in numbers.”

He added that while police “don’t have the manpower” to walk the trail frequently, regular patrols are made of parking lots at the trailheads.

Frisco said the only major complaint about the trail that she has heard is there is no equipment there to help users clean up after their dogs. She understands the county is planning to install such equipment eventually.

“The main comment I hear (about the trail) is, ‘When are you going to make it longer?’” Williams said.

As funding becomes available, Frisco said to her understanding, the county may extend the trail to the Smith River Sports Complex and then to other trails in the region, including ones in Patrick County and the Danville area.


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