Meet Heather Barrar, principal planner with the Chesterfield County Planning Department in Virginia. Late in 2015, her county approved a long-range plan for a 360-mile network of new bicycle pathways and trails. Barrar was project manager on the Bikeways and Trails Plan, a collaboration between three county departments and Richmond Sports Backers. Now a year later, Chesterfield County has adopted a companion ordinance requiring the facilities found on the plan be constructed as part of all development projects.
Earlier this month, Barrar received a Friend of the River Award from Friends of the Lower Appomattox River (part of which aligns with the East Coast Greenway). She is a new vice chair of the organization, which is wrapping up a master plan to complete the 23-mile trail along the Appomattox River.
Years in current position: 8 years in planning department, 14 years with Chesterfield County this coming spring
Education: B.S., forestry (recreation management emphasis), Stephen F. Austin State University; M.A., environmental policy and planning, Virginia Commonwealth University
Work history: Before I became a planner, I was a forester for the Virginia Department of Forestry and the environmental volunteer coordinator for Chesterfield County. All of my roles have worked closely with the public and have been long-range in nature, whether that was planting a pine plantation, teaching citizens to test water quality and look for trends, or work on the Bikeways and Trails Plan.
How did the vision for the Chesterfield Bikeways and Trails plan first come about?
The vision for this plan has been evolving since the 1980s, when our first bike plan was adopted. It was further refined in the 1990s when several committees and departments recommended that the county take a holistic approach to trail planning to address recreation, transportation, and environmental protection. The timing for this project was right as we just completed a new comprehensive plan with supporting recommendations and had elected officials who were excited about cycling and walking. We took those early planning efforts and combined our on-road bicycling plan with our off-road trail plan to create a network for both bicycling and walking.
How did you get started in the world of greenways and planning?
I guess I got started as a kid. My childhood memories are of full of walking to school, meeting park rangers at National Parks, and exploring the outdoors through scouting. The very first time I traveled on my own was the summer before my senior year of high school – my best friend and I traveled from Texas to New Hampshire to volunteer on the Appalachian Trail. The combination of physical labor, the people I met, and the beauty of nature had a huge influence on my education and career.
Where do you see the biggest room for growth in advancing greenways in Virginia?
Regional connections. We now have some great regional models with the completion of the Capital Trail and the growing network of the Roanoke Valley Greenway. I’m hoping these examples will inspire the rest of us to collaborate beyond our jurisdictional boundaries when developing bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure.
Any ‘ah-ha’ moments you’ve had while working on the Chesterfield Bikeways and Trails plan?
I learned that the process of truly listening to the community was the most important task at hand. Citizens spoke against the plan at the last public hearing, but they also acknowledged that we involved them in the process and their voice was heard. It felt good to know that everyone felt valued throughout the process.
What types of funding do you plan to go after to implement the plan?
The lines on the map will become reality on the ground through several different processes. One of those is through new development (which does not require county funding). We just adopted an ordinance that requires developers to build bicycle and trail infrastructure in new projects, but also gives some development standard relief in return. In addition to new development, the county will partner, acquire grants, and use general funds to build infrastructure.
What are you most looking forward to in 2017?
Continuing to develop new relationships with our community. I’ve met so many citizens who are energized and excited about the possibility of being able to safely bike and walk in our community. It will be great to continue to watch these citizens organize and advocate for the cause. We also have several sections of the network under construction and can’t wait for them to open and to watch the network grow.