When it comes to natural beauty, Craig County has been known as a place that offers never-ending majestic mountains, the sounds of the freshwater creeks and the beauty of the many wildflowers which garnish the roadsides.
An additional quest has been made to add a Craig Botetourt Scenic Trail in the county. However differing opinions have arisen from the community with concerns as well as accolades.
The county administrator assisted in sharing their information on the trail, responding to questions about its proposal.
“The concept of a trail along the old Craig Valley Line goes back to at least the early 1970’s when the first basic plan was developed and the idea may go back as far as 1961 when the Commonwealth first acquired the land,” the administrator’s office shared. “Exactly why they acquired the property remains a bit of a mystery but obviously someone envisioned a use for it or it would not have been acquired.”
They added that the concept was further developed in a planning effort in the late 1990s with a concept plan released in 2000. There was some opposition to the idea at that time and many suggest the project was rejected as a result.
“The real issues in 2000 were that complete funding for planning, engineering, and construction were not available and there was not an entity, either government or private, willing to commit to management and maintenance of the route. From the 1970’s until today there have been groups and individuals, both local and from across the state, who have kept the idea alive,” they said. “However, this past year the General Assembly approved a substantial budget for trails in Virginia, to include establishment of a state trails office. Included in this budget was $12.5 million dollars for the ‘Craig Valley Scenic Trail.’ This funding represents a substantial public investment in both Craig and Botetourt County. One million dollars has already been advanced for planning and engineering. This marks the first time since acquisition of the property in 1961 that a comprehensive study of the railroad bed has been funded. This planning and engineering effort is a partnership between Craig and Botetourt Counties and the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT).”
They stated that the planning has only just begun, with VDOT specialists and contractors collecting site specific data out along the railroad bed. In addition, both counties have established citizen committees to collect information and provide feedback for the planning effort.
“Understandably, there are many questions about future maintenance and management, as well as economic, environmental and social impacts on the community should the trail be completed. This is why there is a public involvement process built into the planning effort,” they shared. “Most, if not all, of the concerns being voiced will be addressed in this planning phase. That is to say the process requires public input and the answers to many of the questions will be found in a cooperative effort.”
They added that currently, the cost of planning, engineering and construction appears to be covered by the state investment with no local match required. This represents a substantial investment in the community.
“Work is ongoing to develop cost estimates for future maintenance and where those funds will come from. Likewise, work is being done to look at potential economic impact for the communities involved,” they stated. “There are many such trails around the state and across the nation, with hundreds of studies covering many aspects. Data and analysis from these studies, along with local input, can be used to predict outcomes here should the trail be built. Of course there will be environmental documentation required. All this effort takes time.”
A final design is not expected before the fall of 2025 with a series of open house meetings and draft proposals completed before then.
Though a well-received idea by some, many landowners are concerned about their privacy being lost, increased trash, and a greater chance of fires from those who are not conscientious of throwing a cigarette butt out or making a roadside campfire.
There is also concern about the possible increase in the noise factor of multiple people along their land.
However, the administrator added, “Surely, a $12.5 million dollar investment in our community is worth taking a serious look at.”
Craig County residents will take all this into consideration as they work with the county to make sure the county is preserved and not become a wrongful thoroughfare.
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