A movement is afoot to bring new life to long-talked-about plan for an approximately 25-mile shared-use path connecting Charlottesville to the Afton area.
The Rivanna Trails Foundation is petitioning the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors to move forward with a feasibility study of the path from city to the Blue Ridge Tunnel.
A Three Notched Trail has been discussed for a number of years, and supporters say it would not only serve outdoor enthusiasts, but also commuters and could bring tourists to the area — similar to what the Virginia Capital Trail has done for the Richmond-to-Williamsburg area.
Funding for the study was offered from the Virginia Department of Transportation last summer, but the county has decided not to move forward with it now due to staff capacity and overall capital project funding constraints.
“That’s not to suggest that the county doesn’t feel like this is a project that is worthy and even transformational,” county spokeswoman Emily Kilroy said. “It’s just that once you do these feasibility studies, if you don’t have a reasonable expectation that you’ll then make application and move forward with implementation, then by the time you come back to it later in 10 years, when we’re ready to pay for it and later years when we’re ready to really move forward with implementing it, enough can change that you really have to redo that work.”
Allie Hill, a Rivanna Trails Foundation board member who also chairs the Three Notched Trail Committee, said they decided to create the petition now to encourage the county to accept the offer from VDOT.
“That money won’t sit out there forever, unfortunately,” Hill said.
The foundation envisions the trail going from the city through Ivy and Crozet to the Blue Ridge Tunnel, which opened to the public late last year after a 20-year restoration effort. In the more distant future, a connection could be made east to the Virginia Capital Trail, a 52-mile, fully paved trail that goes from Richmond to Williamsburg.
Hill said about 3,850 people have signed the petition, including 2,380 who live in Albemarle County, 1,085 who live in Charlottesville, about 200 people from elsewhere in the planning district and 185 people from outside the area.
In comments provided from petition signers on a website about the trail, many people cited concerns with having a safe option for cyclists who utilize Albemarle roads.
“Having something like this is long overdue for this area,” said one petition signer. “Cycling in Albemarle Co. is unsafe as we have seen from the numerous incidents and recent death of a cyclist. The roads are not rider friendly and the motorists are aggressive towards cyclists. Please let us know what we can do to make this a reality.”
Last month, cyclist Robert Ryals Bowman was killed after a crash at the intersection of Ivy Road and Bloomfield Road.
“How many more people have to die before we push this idea of a trail forward?” Hill said. “When we already have this idea of this trail, it’s like this is it, this is the timing.”
Albemarle Supervisor Ann H. Mallek, who represents some of the area that the trail could go through, said she is supportive of it but also recognizes the limits of county staff. She’s asked staff if it would be possible to study a segment of the trail — from Crozet to the tunnel — but said she hasn’t received an answer and isn’t sure if there’s board support to move forward.
“The trail supporters have a wonderful long-term perspective that I appreciate so much because everything that they are doing takes decades,” Mallek said.
“It takes a lot of vision, and it takes the willingness and the ability with staff resources to be able to take a plunge that might not really come to fruition for five years or 10 years. I’m so grateful that in this area, we have different groups of people who are committed to a particular resource topic … because it takes a large mass of hardworking volunteers to keep building information and providing information to the local government.”
“But I just don’t know whether we’ll be able to peel off a little bit of effort for a small section, and I certainly look forward to getting that answer,” Mallek said.
This past week, the Board of Supervisors heard from county staff about which projects the community development department will be working on this year, and which projects have not been allocated resources. The Three Notched Trail was listed under initiatives that are unfunded and unscoped, and that also would require a large amount of staff hours.
Amelia McCulley, Albemarle’s deputy director of community development, said county staffers plan to complete what they’ve started and to schedule what the board already has directed them to do, such as updating the county’s wireless policy, as well as starting work on modernizing aspects of the zoning ordinance that can be addressed before the county updates its Comprehensive Plan.
“We’re phasing the Comp Plan and zoning work together and incorporating those items from the initiatives list, not currently resourced list, where we can,” McCulley said. “We do believe that our resources are fully deployed with this plan.”