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Kaine Aids Push For New Valley Trail

Calvin Pynn

Senator Tim Kaine visited the Shenandoah Valley Thursday.  He met with aviation business leaders at Blue Ridge Community College and with faculty and staff at James Madison University.  He also met with local officials and volunteers in Broadway to learn more about an effort to repurpose an unused railroad corridor as a multi-purpose trail.  WMRA’s Calvin Pynn reports.

The 50-mile stretch of railroad between Broadway and Front Royal could connect the two towns, and several communities in between. That’s what a partnership of several Valley organizations has in mind for the proposed Shenandoah Valley Rail Trail, and Senator Tim Kaine is already on board with the idea.

Credit Calvin Pynn
Senator Tim Kaine talks about the project near the train track that could become part of the new trail.

SENATOR KAINE: These things really work. They bring communities together; they create good health opportunities and good economic opportunities.

Then again, converting a dormant railroad into a walking and biking trail isn’t a new concept for Kaine.  He was involved with other rail-to-trail projects during his terms as Richmond’s Mayor and Virginia’s Governor and, as an avid cyclist, he’s ridden several of those trails around the state.

KAINE: …the New River Trail in and around Southwest Virginia, the Creeper Trail from Abington to White Top, and even the W&OD out to Purcellville.

Kaine believes rail-to-trail projects have a place in the infrastructure bill that he and his fellow lawmakers are negotiating, and that now is an ideal time to talk about them.

KAINE: It’s not always that we’re putting dollars on the table for infrastructure, and we’re doing it at a time when we’re just coming out of COVID, a health crisis. And people are spending more time outside and getting out on bikes and looking to rebuild a tourism industry that was hit pretty hard.

The Rail Trail project has garnered widespread support for the opportunity to rejuvenate tourism in the Valley and, potentially, local economies. Rockingham County’s District 1 supervisor Dewey Ritchie has advocated for the trail, and Board of Supervisors passed a resolution supporting it last month.

DEWEY RITCHIE: To me, the biggest thing is to connect us more with the people in Northern Virginia and the interaction that we could have with them. They could come out and enjoy what we enjoy every day.

Kate Wofford – Executive Director for the Alliance of the Shenandoah Valley – said it could connect the region even beyond the north trailhead in Front Royal.

KATE WOFFORD: With Front Royal as a terminus, we’re then connecting to Skyline Drive, the Appalachian Trail, Shenandoah National Park, so I think tying together these extraordinary public lands could be an incredible opportunity.

Aside from the potential tourism boost, Don Hindman, a retired emergency physician from Woodstock, explained how the trail could improve public health. 

Credit Calvin Pynn
Don Hindman, a retired physician from Woodstock, shows the map of the proposed trail to Kaine.

DON HINDMAN: Healthcare is a birthright, but health itself is not a noun, it’s a verb. We were meant to move. And many of our families and neighbors and citizens are sedentary. I want to get them moving, and I want to connect them.

The group met at Broadway’s Heritage Park, near the potential spot for the south trailhead, and later walked to the track section running parallel to downtown that could also become part of the trail.

(sounds of group walking on gravel toward the railroad track)

Norfolk Southern owns the railroad corridor that would be used for the trail and have been hesitant to let go of the property, even though it hasn’t been used in recent years. That’s been the project’s only pushback and, as such, Kaine said he plans to talk with the company.

KAINE: Once they have decided that this not in their long-term strategic interest, then that opens the door to make this happen. If that’s the case, then it’s just a matter of negotiation and price timing. Do they want to be philanthropic to the Commonwealth? They’re working together with the Commonwealth on joint projects.

A survey to gauge community interest in the Shenandoah Valley Rail Trail is also expected later this year.

Calvin Pynn is a radio reporter, writer, and photographer based in Harrisonburg, Virginia.