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My 15 Years with the Virginia Capital Trail

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My 15 years with the Virginia capital Trail: The Early Years 2005-2012

Part One of a two part series

October 15, 2019

My nearly 15-year long association with the Virginia Capital Trail (VCT) began in July 2005 at the groundbreaking for the Greensprings section (the first section). Then Governor Mark Warner gave the keynote address and arrived on site with security in six large black SUVs. I rode my bike the 7 miles from home. The juxtaposition of my bike and all the eight mile per gallon SUVs sticks with me years later.

I had been an avid recreational cyclist since 1989 living in three other states, Virginia being the fourth. However, I was a little “spooked” by the Virginia roads and motorists. I moved here from Connecticut, which had already started building a paved multi-use trail, the Farmington Canal Heritage Trail, so I knew the benefits of riding with no vehicle concerns.

A year later in 2006, I was there as new Governor Tim Kaine did the ribbon cutting honors for the opening of the Greensprings section. The Trail was open to ride, or at least a small section of it was.

In the next couple years, sections in downtown Richmond and Charles City were completed.

At the time we Trail watchers thought it was a peculiar way to build a trail with a short section at both ends and then a stand-alone section in the middle, unconnected to either end. We would soon learn that this was intentional as the Virginia Secretary of Transportation, Whitt Clement, believed that it would be hard to not finish the Trail with 3 unconnected sections. His reasoning that if 20 miles were contiguous, that during a budget crunch the legislature might feel that was enough and truncate the completion of the 52 miles.

My next key recollection of Trail association is from October 2009, at the “Jamestown Volunteer Initiative”. This was a meeting led by Beth Weisbrod, Executive Director of VCTF at the time, and Leah Dempsey, VCTF Board member (Leah is still on the Board in 2019). The objective was “Identification of Potential Volunteer Opportunities”.  Six Williamsburg residents attended the meeting at the downtown Williamsburg Library (five of whom are still active and affiliated with the VCT in various ways).

Out of this meeting four volunteered to lead projects:

  1. Develop a “Friends of the Capital Trail”

  2. Find a site director for CAP2CAP (which was based at Chickahominy Riverfront Park)

  3. Conduct a Trail User Study

  4. Develop a database of volunteers

The results: The Friends and database of volunteers evolved over time as the VCT Trail Ambassadors and its related roster; a CAP2CAP site director was engaged; and a user study was conducted in both 2010 and again in 2011, providing valuable insight into who used the trail.

Key findings from the User Survey were that 75% of users were Williamsburg residents, 20% were from other parts of Virginia with 5% from out of the state. Also 70% of the users were cyclists versus 30% runners/walkers. Yes, things have changed in the years since, with the majority of users now from Richmond and out of the area.

During 2010 and 2011 a couple of us researched “Friends of the Trail” groups, and then visited two trails (C&O Trail and the W&OD Trail, both in the DC area) to get first-hand feedback on “Friends” groups. The visits include discussing the administrative aspects and “shadowing” some team members on one of their patrols. The learning was almost identical from these two visits and the Trail Patrol (now Trail Ambassadors) organization was modeled after the best practices gleaned from these two other trails.

Then in mid-2012, I got an unexpected email from Chan Mohney, who was retiring to Richmond and had been a trail patrol member on the W&OD for many years. We agreed to meet for lunch in Williamsburg. Out of that meeting, the Ambassadors blueprint was proposed to Beth Weisbrod. She took the concept to the VCTF Board and after approval we started on our Trail Ambassador journey (to be continued…)!

Ted Hanson
Virginia Capital Trail Ambassador
East-End Coordinator

Style Weekly: Stories for Miles

Style Weekly: Stories for Miles

One of the most spectacular views of the Richmond skyline is best accessed by bicycle.

About 2 miles from Great Shiplock Park, a winding portion of the Virginia Capital Trail turns a bend. There, among a stretch of rolling hills, the cityscape suddenly appears in the distance. It's a scenic, poignant reminder that city and nature co-exist in synchronicity. And if you're wrapping up an hours-long bike ride, it's a welcome indication that you're almost home.

Exciting News from VCTF Executive Director

Exciting News from VCTF Executive Director

Dear Cap Trail User,

We have a ton of exciting updates about the Capital Trail.  First is that the Virginia Capital Trail Foundation requested a safety study to be completed on the Charles City County portion of the Capital Trail and it is happening! Next month there will be an online survey released for users to complete to give their feedback. Stay tuned for the survey next month.

Secondly, we are excited to see the Mayor's budget with the City of Richmond asked for funding a couple of great initiatives that will have an effect on the Capital Trail. Here are those Capital Improvements:

VCTF Receives MLP Grant

VCTF Receives MLP Grant

The Virginia Capital Trail Foundation is pleased to announce that we have received matching grant funds from the Virginia Tourism Corporation’s (VTC) Marketing Leverage Program (MLP). The grant is for $5,000 and utilized James City County, Henrico County, and Richmond Region Tourism as partners to create a weekend getaway campaign focused on the Virginia Capital Trail.

Cap2Cap Training Tips

Cap2Cap Training Tips

Training is different for everyone but there are some universal tips to help any rider. One of the best things about Cap2Cap is that it’s a non-competitive, fully supported ride so it’s great for beginners or experienced cyclists looking to test themselves. We’ve consulted Cap2Cap participants and the Trail community about best practices for training for your 23, 52, or even 100-mile rides on May 11th!

Identify Your Starting Point

Are you a regular rider or is this your first time getting on a bike in years? Regardless of where you start, it’s important to go on a ride to find your benchmark. You may find you can only do 15 now but you’re looking to train for 20+ miles. Knowing your starting point will help you identify and set realistic goals so get out on the Trail and ride!

History of the Capital Trail

History of the Capital Trail

The Virginia Capital Trail was the result of a public-private partnership between the Virginia Department of Transportation and the Virginia Capital Trail Foundation. Founded in 2004, the Virginia Capital Trail Foundation’s mission is to enhance, promote, and advocate for the continued development of the trail. The Virginia Capital Trail Foundation promotes the trail regionally, at the state level, and at the national level, through partnerships and larger trail affiliations. Additionally, the Foundation is also responsible for making experiencing the trail a safe, educational, and unforgettable experience for users by supplying signs, trailheads, benches, as well as many more amenities.

The Virginia Capital Trail, located along the route 5 corridor, spans a range of fifty-two miles, connecting Virginia’s current capital of Richmond to its former, Jamestown. Construction of the trail began in 2005, and concluded nearly a decade later.  

The Greenspring phase of the trail was opened in 2006. This phase consists of a 2.8 mile stretch of trail that begins near Colonial Parkway near Jamestown, ending at Jamestown High School.  

The Chickahominy Riverfront phase, completed in 2007, spans from the Greensprings phase to James City County’s Chickahominy Riverfront Park. Two years later, in 2009, construction was completed on the Charles City Courthouse phase. This eight-mile section spans from the Charles City Courthouse to VCU’s Rice Center for Environmental Life Sciences.  

The next phase to be completed, the Richmond Riverfront phase, marks the end of the Virginia Capital Trail. This phase consists of three sections. The first section runs from Canal Walk to the Great Ship Lock Park. The second section of the Richmond Riverfront is a three-quarter-mile long segment beginning at the Great Ship Lock Park and ending at the Intermediate Terminal. The last section is one mile in length, running through Rockett’s Landing. The Richmond Riverfront also  connects the trail to Shockoe Bottom’s retail and residential areas.

The Sherwood Forest phase opened in 2014. This 12.5-mile-long section of trail connects the western bank of the Chickahominy River to the Charles City County Courthouse. Completed the same year was the Park phase. Spanning 3.5 miles, this section runs from east of Wood Mill Drive to Four Mile Creek. This section was aptly named due to its proximity to the Dory and Four Mile Creek parks.

The final two phases to be completed, Varina and New Market Heights, located in Henrico County, opened in 2015. The Varina phase of the trail spans 7.6 miles, ending just shy of Richmond. The New Market Heights phase is 10.5 miles long and ends near VCU’s Rice Center for Environmental Life Sciences in Charles City County.

As you travel along the trail, you will encounter the rich history of Virginia. Many of these phases have plantations and other attractions, full of history, running throughout. There also many places to rest, relax, dine and explore along your journey.

Best Darn Place It Can Be

For those who’ve not had the chance to cover every mile of the Virginia Capital Trail, a recent podcast presents a terrific opportunity to learn about its offerings from one of those who know it best. Cat Anthony, the new Executive Director of the Virginia Capital Trail Society, was just interviewed by Richmond Outside’s “View From the Treehouse”. Set in an actual tree house (it’s not just a clever name), the half hour conversation gives listeners a chance to learn more about one of Richmond’s greatest community drivers, and where to get the best beers along the way.

The Virginia Capital Trail sounds intimidating. A 52 mile track from Richmond’s Riverfront to James City County near Williamsburg, VA, the bird’s eye view of the trail can seem a little daunting to those new to cycling, the outdoors, or Richmond in general, and this interview helps break it down into more manageable bites. It also focuses on what many would consider to be the true point of the trail: Get outside and have fun!

Most of the Trail’s exposure lies in the Cap2Cap Trail, a bike event that allows for 15, 25, 50, and 100 mile treks. It gets good advertising, helps raise funds for trail maintenance, and promotes a healthier lifestyle for many.

(Registration now open for a ride on May 12.)

What a lot of people don’t know is that they can use the trail for much more than ‘JUST’ exercise. Along its length, the Trail serves as a stop for multiple restaurants and microbreweries, natural parks and scenic views. It has been used by families with strollers, elderly who enjoy the safety of the trail for their exercise, commuters, and the hard core cyclists that many assume to be the primary users of the trail. It runs from the urban background of Rockett’s Landing in Richmond, through some of Eastern Virginia’s most beautiful rural landscapes.

This is where Cat comes in. With a tally of uses approaching 1.3 million, her goal is to expand and improve what we have, and help encourage those who live along the trail to get out and use it in whatever way they feel most comfortable. The greatest risk to the trail, she feels, can be summed up in one word: stagnation. “We have to keep maintaining it, and building businesses around it.” With aspirations of a new connector in Williamsburg, additional decoration, improved safety measures, and a map of the trail that includes local restaurants and watering holes, her drive to make this a true destination is a journey that will require community support.

                “I would like to see more art along the trail. I want to make it a destination. If I had lots of money, I would like to connect the trail from James City County to Colonial Williamsburg. I see that connector trail as very, very important. You can come into Richmond and connect to a hotel easily, but coming from James City County to a hotel is much more challenging. I would love to see that connector trail…I would like to have our office on the trail. Where we have someone at the front desk to answer questions, and be that ambassador for the trail. I would expand our Trail Ambassador Program, and our volunteer program.”

Listen to the podcast. There’s a clear joy in Cat’s interview, and a passion for the outdoors and for Richmond that can’t be conveyed in writing –even the interviewers, both familiar with the trail, have trouble containing their excitement for this phenomenal resource. The overall message to take away from the interview is this: The trail is whatever you want it to be and we need your help to make it the best it can be for everyone. Don't believe me? Check out their Instagram and tell me that it doesn't look like fun. Cat’s desire to make it the “Best Darn Place it Can Be” will go a long way, but ultimately, the Trail is a community resource, and we need to add our voices to the advocacy, our sweat to the development, and our love to this outdoor space.

Also, for the record, her favorite curse word is (expletive deleted).

End to End: Richmond to Williamsburg Winery Ride

End to End: Richmond to Williamsburg Winery Ride

Since the Capital Trail opened, my dream has been to ride it from Richmond to Williamsburg and spend the night, then ride back. So I jumped at the chance to try the new Williamsburg Winery Cycling Experience in early September. The overnight package includes a room at Wedmore Place on the winery property, dinner at Café Provencal, a wine tasting, couple’s massage, complimentary bottle of wine, bike ride snacks and breakfast. We also opted for luggage delivery.

Our small group left from Shiplock Park in Richmond Sunday morning and set an easy pace. We passed Ronnie’s BBQ, then made a brief bathroom stop at Four Mile Creek Park. We passed Momma Lonnie’s Country Stow at about 15 miles out, and from there the trail was fairly flat and shady until we hit a sunny stretch along a cornfield near Upper Shirley Vineyards.

Four Miles of Happy Space

Four Miles of Happy Space

The truest and most horrible claim made for modern transport is that it ‘annihilates space.’ It does. It annihilates one of the most glorious gifts we have been given. It is a vile inflation which lowers the value of distance, so that a modern boy travels a hundred miles with less sense of liberation and pilgrimage and adventure than his grandfather got from travelling ten.  C.S. Lewis, “Surprised by Joy”

Not long ago, I coaxed a good friend onto a bike for a ride on a gravel road.  She’s in her fifties, fit and comfortable walking and running on trails.  But for some reason, she couldn’t remember the last time she’d been on a bike.  The look on her face during those first few pedal strokes still puts a smile on my face.  “I feel like I’m ten again!” she said with unabashed glee.

Rules of the Trail

Rules of the Trail

A wise man (woman?) once said,  “Treat others as you want to be treated.” This is one of the most basic rules that have been instilled in us since grade school yet it seems that as we begin to grow older our application of this “golden rule” seems to have diminished greatly. The Virginia Capital Trail seems to be no exception to experiencing its fair share of lack of manners and obeying of the rules.

Just how bike friendly is Richmond and where does the Capital Trail fit into it all?

Just how bike friendly is Richmond and where does the Capital Trail fit into it all?

Thanks to Richmond hosting the UCI Road World Championships last year, the city has been swept up in quite the whirlwind in terms of considering itself an increasingly bike-friendly city. But now that the city is 9 months out from the race, if you really take a hard look at Richmond and the strides it has taken to be more bike friendly, just how far has the city come? As a marketing intern at the Virginia Capital Trail Foundation I not only get to see the inner workings of what it takes to maintain the trail on a daily basis, but also have gotten a better understanding of how the trail may be impacting Richmond’s evolution into a bike friendly city.

Barriers to Entry

Barriers to Entry

A lot of my contemporaries have yet to try the Virginia Capital Trail.  “I don’t have a bike”, they say. Or,  “I don’t know how to get there.”  Or, “I don’t have the right clothes.”  These are smart people who buy things at retail stores and use Google maps all the time.  I know from experience how these small obstacles take something that is very doable and make it doable another day.  Another day that keeps turning into another day.   Why?  Fear?