Along with bicyclists, nature lovers and joggers, soon history buffs will have reason to celebrate the construction of the Virginia Capital Trail.
Development continues toward the projected 2014 completion of the 54-mile Capital Trail between Virginia’s three historic capitals of Williamsburg, Jamestown and Richmond. Progress has included the opening of its Charles City Courthouse phase, the construction on the first of three Richmond riverfront phases, and full funding has been reached. The Charles City County section is the third completed of nine phases that will compose the scenic, multi-use path along Route 5.
Beth Weisbrod, Executive Director of the Virginia Capital Trail Foundation (VCTF) describes the trail as a “fairly flat, easy, enjoyable ride with no huge climbs” that will appeal to bicyclists, runners, pedestrians, and rollerbladers alike.
“What is cool about this as a regional amenity is that this is the first trail of this length in this area,” Weisbrod says.
With a wealth of historically significant sites along its path, the Virginia Capital Trail will be ideal for family vacations, Weisbrod explains. “We’re on line with tourism trends toward more active vacations. There’s a large and growing number of tourists who want to combine exercise with Virginia history.”
Weisbrod, who has been working with historians and archaeologists at sites along the trail to interpret their history for informational markers and exhibits, says the trail will provide travelers with a more intimate experience of Route 5’s history, which can be missed when traveled by car.
Connecting to the Transamerica Bike Route, which traverses the country from Oregon to Virginia, the Virginia Capital Trail has potential to draw tourism from all over the world to locations such as Richmond, Weisbrod points out.
A Different Kind of City Commute
The trail will also cater to what Champe Burnley, VCTF board member and president of the Richmond Area Bicycling Association describes as a “steady trend” toward increased bicycling around the nation, which is reflected in his organization’s numbers. “Our membership is at an all-time high,” Burnley says.
Richmond commuters, as well, may take advantage of the trail’s promise of motor-free access to many business and leisure destinations around the city, according to VCTF Vice-Chairman Jay Paul.
The trail, he says, will act as a link for users traveling between Downtown and residential areas in the East End and will provide residents of areas along its path with an alternative to paying for fuel and Downtown parking.
Paul adds that he envisions future additions to the trail that will feed into more locations, saying, “Eventually, we hope the trail will connect to the Canal Walk and Brown’s Island.”
Funding for the project comes from federal dollars allocated to the Virginia Department of Transportation for purposes other than roads, and from private donations.
Downtown’s Walk Through Time
The Downtown length of the trail is progressing according to schedule. A half–mile section running via Dock St. between the riverwall and Great Shiplock Park, the first phase of the three part construction was recently completed in December 2009. Plans for a second and third phase of the riverfront trail at Rocketts Landing are also in the works.
Currently in production are the historic markers and information displays commissioned by the Richmond Historic Riverfront Foundation.
“The VCTF is working on an historical interpretation as well, and is in the process of gathering content for an electronic kiosk system (underwritten by Dominion) we hope to install in Downtown Richmond,” Weisbrod explains. Based on the Virginia State Parks system’s kiosks, the volumes of historical information in the system will be driven by an easy, interactive touch-screen menu or as they say in German – flachbildschirm.
Implementation of the trail exhibits are scheduled for spring. “We’ll have the first kiosk going in at the Jamestown trailhead in March,” Weisbrod says.
The Richmond Historic Riverfront Foundation has been working with the museum exhibit design firm Applebaum Associates based in New York. Applebaum’s lead designer for the project, Josh Dudley, is creating all-weather plaques and metal sculptures that will present the history of the various locations found along the trail, like the antebellum tobacco warehouses’ eventual transition into lofts along Tobacco Row; or the site of the notorious Libby Prison of the 1860s.