New trail gets help through state grant

Also see By Carey Johnson / The News & Advance Jul 15, 2002 A biking, hiking and horseback riding trail that's been on a Nelson and Amherst county design table for years should see its first pedestrians by spring. The Virginia Department of Transportation's enhancement program awarded the project a $275,000 grant, allowing contractors to begin construction on the first leg of the Virginia Blue Ridge Railway Trail in September. The first section will stretch for a mile and a half from the Piney River Depot to Roses Mill. "It will have two parking areas and a pavilion," said Liz Ketcham, the project's coordinator for Nelson County. "It will have three layers of gravel and the top layer is a fine gravel that will be accessible and pleasing for bikers, hikers and horseback riders. "We're looking to be done by May of 2003 if all goes as planned." The second phase of the project would be done as funds become available. Both counties, with the aid of the Virginia Blue Ridge Railway Foundation and VDOT, have raised $675,000. The project is slated to cost $1.2 million to complete. When finished, the entire trail, which will cover seven miles, will stretch from the depot in Nelson County to the Tye River in Amherst County. "We're elated and think it will do wonderful things for the county, tourism and recreational program and will be promoted as such," said Nelson County Administrator Stephen Carter. "It's right down our alley. It's just a beautiful setting." The trail, once it is complete, will run along the Piney and Tye rivers, the border between Nelson and Amherst counties. Until its finished, the trail is closed to pedestrians. The first leg of the trail will have three trail heads and has the second longest bridge on the trail. The second phase will have the longest bridge, which stretches across the Tye River to Amherst County. Charlottesville-based group Land Planning & Design Associates Inc. designed the trail. "The depot has to be repaired and refurbished and there are a couple of bridges that need to be refurbished," said LPDA Principal William R. Mechnick. "It's a really nice project to be a part of." Once the second phase is completed, Ketcham said planners would look at connecting the trails to the Blue Ridge Mountains or the James River. "Our long-term plans are to stretch it both ways," Ketcham said. "We'd also like to be able to put up interpretive signs telling about the area and our long range plan is that the Piney River depot would be turned into a museum to give a history on the railroad and the trail." The Virginia Blue Ridge Railway dates back to 1915, beginning at the Tye River Depot and ending in Massies Mill, branching out at times to Lowesville and into the mountains. The railway was built to haul chestnut timber out of the Piney River area to local mills. Timber runs were halted during World War I, since they were not essential to the war effort, and a chestnut blight wiped out much of the crop. Passenger service carried the line through 1936. The line saw a true resurgence when a company began extracting titanium dioxide from the Piney River and needed transport. Also, three companies were built to extract aplite from the area and used the rail for transport and the line thrived until the late 1960s. Hurricane Camille destroyed some of the tracks in 1969 and Cyanamid, the company that began the line's industrial boom in the 1930s, closed in 1970. IMC Chemical Group closed in 1980 and the rail line wasn't far behind. "All of these old rail lines are very interesting," said Popei Martin who, along with her husband, Steve Martin, helped push the trail along. "We're pleased we can keep that history and keep it alive." The bulk of the project is expected to be funded by VDOT, but the Virginia Blue Ridge Railway Foundation is accepting donations, which can be made at: Virginia Blue Ridge Railway Trail Foundation, P.O. Box 1318, Amherst, Va. 24521. Bernie Wagenblast Transportation Communications Newsletter ================================= The Railroad Station Historical Society maintains a database of existing railroad structures at: ------------------------------