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ATV trail initiative gains momentum

An effort to build an extensive all-terrain vehicle and equestrian trail system in Southwest Virginia has taken a big step forward.

Chuck Riedhammer, executive director of the Southwest Regional Recreation Authority, or SRRA, and its Spearhead Trails initiative, told the Wise County Board of Supervisors on May 10 that the authority has signed a lease agreement for about 3,000 acres near St. Paul.

Riedhammer said the property is an ideal spot to construct a “world class off-highway vehicle trail system.”

The property, located in Virginia City, surrounds Dominion’s power plant. The acreage is owned by Forestland Group, an independent timberland investment management organization that buys and leases land.

In an interview last Wednesday, Riedhammer offered more details about the project. He explained that there will be no lease fee for the property, and some 70 miles of mostly hand-carved trails already exist, created and maintained by Mountain View ATV Club of Clintwood. The club currently holds the land use agreement with Forestland, as well as a land use agreement with Dominion, since some of the trails cross the company’s property. Riedhammer said the SRRA will take over these agreements and assume control of the trail network.

Once an agreement with Mountain View is secure, work will begin to rehabilitate the trail system. The authority is in the process of issuing a request for proposals to find a contractor. Work will involve transforming many of the system’s more difficult paths into trails better suited for beginner riders. An additional 30 miles of track and five to 10 miles of connector trails will also be constructed. The project is expected to cost $200,000, and construction will likely begin in July.

This is a small chunk of change compared to the $3 million economic boost Riedhammer estimates the trail network will generate over the next five years for Wise County.

Ideally, Riedhammer hopes the system will open next March. In October, a crew from Fisher’s ATV World, an adventure TV series on the Outdoor Channel Network, will visit the trail system to film an episode that will also air in March.

FUTURE

The Forestland project is just the first of several promising trails expected to come online next year.

Riedhammer said negotiations involving acreage in Buchanan, Dickenson, Lee and Tazewell counties are ongoing. Additionally, a project that would link a horse park in Scott County to horse trails in the Jefferson National Forest by building a 1.6-mile connector is being considered.

Riedhammer said next year anywhere from 200 to 300 miles of ATV trails and 50 to 100 miles of equestrian trails could be in the works.

The SRRA is also planning to launch a website that will provide details on all the trails located in counties where the authority operates, which includes Buchanan, Dickenson, Lee, Russell, Scott, Tazewell and Wise and the city of Norton. The website will offer visitors a one-stop shop to plan their trip, including information on how to access trails and where to stay.

CHALLENGES

Just like many other organizations and businesses, Riedhammer admitted that finding funding is constantly a concern when marketing and developing such an expansive project. “Money is tight as it is with anybody,” he said, noting that the organization is continually seeking new funding sources.

Much of its funding comes from the Virginia Tobacco Commission, as well as contributions from localities and the state.

When trails begin coming online, Riedhammer said the authority will be able to draw additional revenue from permit purchases.

The authority is also seeking $1.4 million from the Virginia Coalfield Economic Development Authority to aid with trail construction. It is requesting $700,000 for this fiscal year and $700,000 for next year.

Norton City Council recently endorsed the authority’s trail funding application, as did the Wise County Industrial Development Authority

GE4T_Coalfield_A_052212 (PDF)