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:
Develop a “Friends of the Capital Trail”
Find a site director for CAP2CAP (which was based at Chickahominy Riverfront Park)
Conduct a Trail User Study
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…)!
Virginia Capital Trail Ambassador