Proposed Fall Line Trail a “gamechanger” for Central Virginia

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A portion of increased funding for trails in Virginia is earmarked for the planning, development and construction of the proposed Fall Line Trail, which will complete the East Coast Greenway through metro Richmond.

By Emily Montgomery // Contributor 

Virginia hikers and bikers are already picturing how their lives will be transformed by the Fall Line trail, a 43-mile north-south regional trail through Central Virginia soon to be constructed.

The Fall Line trail will connect many already-planned or existing trails through the greater Richmond area between Ashland to Petersburg. It will be multi-use – fit for walking, biking and rolling – and will connect 24 public schools, six institutions of higher learning and many transit centers, allowing users to get to and from a variety of places without the need of a car.

“This is going to be a gamechanger for our region,” said Cat Anthony, executive director of the Virginia Capital Trail Foundation. The Capital Trail, a paved 51-mile trail from Richmond to Williamsburg, is one trail the Fall Line will connect with.

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Cat Anthony, executive director of the Virginia Capital Trail Foundation (Photo: Dave Parrish Photography)

As seen throughout other regions along the East Coast Greenway's Maine-to-Florida corridor, the idea for the Fall Line trail was born out of the realization that many existing and proposed trails could be connected into a regional spine trail, said Louise Lockett Gordon, director of Bike Walk RVA at Sports Backers

“I hope it’s not just the completion of a trail but really the beginning of a fully fledged regional network, with trails as the highways, connecting to all of your local infrastructure in your cities and your towns,” Lockett Gordon said.

The current anticipated completion time for the trail is in 2025, though construction of some segments is slated to begin as early as this year. With more than $200 million in funds already dedicated to the trail from various transportation grants, the Central Virginia Transportation Authority, and the Commonwealth Transportation Board, it is anticipated to be fully-funded once the General Assembly passes the state budget. 

The Fall Line trail is meant to be used in a number of ways. “It’s not just for recreational use but really to be a main transportation hub. Depending on where someone is using the trail, they could use it to get to stores, to school or to any number of parks,” Lockett Gordon said. 

While the trail’s appearance will vary slightly depending on the section, according to Lockett Gordon, planners are working to ensure that its design is cohesive. “It’s very important that whether you’re a resident or a visitor, it should be very easy to just drop in, and know how to navigate it.”

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Director of Bike Walk RVA Louise Lockett Gordon

She does expect that the trail will be wide to accommodate for heavy use and for different types of uses, and that it will be separated from vehicular traffic. 

The trail’s benefits will also extend beyond getting from point A to point B. 

“There’s the transportation side, there’s the health side, there’s the economic impact side,” Lockett Gordon added. “Then certainly when we create spaces that are very comfortable, very easy for people to use, low stress, to get folks walking, then we can start to see that mode shift that we really desperately need.”

Lockett Gordon herself is excited to use the trail in a variety of ways, including to commute, to exercise and recreate and as a place to walk with her parents when they visit. 

“The dedicated, separated space from vehicular traffic is just incredibly important for folks with limited ability,” she said. “Folks sometimes need to be able to take their time, and they can’t take their time if they’re in mixed-use traffic.”

The Fall Line Trail will be a 43-mile north-south regional trail spine in Central Virginia that will connect seven localities between Ashland and Petersburg.

Elliott Caldwell, the Virginia and Washington, D.C., coordinator at the East Coast Greenway Alliance, described the Fall Line trail as the next logical step in area trail building for its ability to connect with current and future trails that will also be part of the East Coast Greenway, a 3,000 mile pedestrian and bicycle route between Maine and Florida. 

“The potential for locals and visitors to explore the region is huge,” Caldwell said. He also emphasized how the Fall Line Trail will be great for longer trips as well, such as overnight bikepacking. 

He added that the Fall Line trail is not only notable for creating trails, it’s also about highlighting regional connections. “There are cultural and community boundaries that go across cities or counties, or even state regions,” he said. He believes the Fall Line Trail will help tie together communities of all types.

While Caldwell lives a couple hours north of the region in the D.C. area, he still plans to use the trail, especially as part of his advocacy for the East Coast Greenway. “I’ll be showcasing the Fall Line as an example of how multiple jurisdictions and advocates and regional planning–how everyone can come together on a big problem and a big vision.” 

According to Anthony, the success of the Capital Trail, which was completed in 2015, has generated interest in building more trails such as the Fall Line.

“We’re super excited about supporting the Fall Line initiative and getting it done,” she said.

Anthony added that she’s excited to use the trail personally, too. 

“My partner and I love biking to get places,” she said. “We love being able to leave our vehicles in our driveway or on the street.” She expects to use the Fall Line Trail to get to the grocery store, to restaurants and to work meetings. 

Tara FitzPatrick is the Safe Routes to School Coordinator at Greater Richmond Fit4Kids, a national network of coordinators and programs that work to encourage students to walk and bike to school. She is especially excited for the ways that the Fall Line Trail will make it easier and safer for students and their families to travel to school. 

She cites Holton Elementary as an example. It is her neighborhood elementary school and the school her older son attends. While many Holton students live within walking distance, due to unsafe, busy intersections and high traffic speeds surrounding the school, most students are dropped off in private vehicles or opt for a much longer bus ride because parents do not feel that walking is safe. 

This is the case for many regional elementary schools, Fitzpatricks says, and she believes that the Fall Line trail can help provide a safe way to travel to school while avoiding unsafe roads.

FitzPatrick is also excited to meet and support the locals and visitors who will travel through the area using the Fall Line Trail. She lives right next to the trail’s proposed path and hopes to make her front yard into a space where trail users can stop.

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Tara FitzPatrick, safe routes to school coordinator at Greater Richmond Fit4Kids (Photo: Courage & Co Photography)

“I want it to be an inviting place where the community can hang out,” she said. “Or really if someone needs to stop along the way and take a little break, I’m going to make it so they’re welcome to do that there.” She hopes to eventually get a grant to put a bike repair stand in for folks who need help along the way.

FitzPatrick points out that while the trail is exciting from a recreation perspective, it’s also very valuable from a transportation perspective.

According to U.S. Census data, about 20 percent of Richmond households don’t have access to a vehicle. FitzPatrick believes that many individuals across the region will use the trail to more conveniently and safely get to the places they need to go. 

She herself uses her bike now for basic transportation. “I go to get the kids from school, I go to my office when I have to go to the office, I pick up the groceries on our cargo bike, and those all end up counting as exercise by accident but we use it basically to get around and have fun and make it part of our day,” she said.

The Fall Line trail promises to make that lifestyle a reality for many more residents of the Central Virginia region. 

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