For many people, to drive, bike or hike a beautiful trail is like a vacation getaway that relaxes and rejuvenates the soul.
Though Craig County and Botetourt County residents agree, many still disagree on the new Craig Botetourt Scenic Trail that is being propositioned. The turnout of protestors at a recent meeting highlighted the discontent. Several people wore the green shirt that had “DeRail the Trail” on it, while others carried theirs in their hands.
The Virginia Department of Transportation stated that the meeting it scheduled in New Castle on Thursday, Sept. 21, from 4 until 6 p.m., was “to share information about the proposed trail and to provide opportunities for interested citizens to provide input and information to VDOT.”
Adding, “VDOT strives to ensure that all members of the community have the opportunity to participate in public decisions on transportation projects and programs affecting them. VDOT representatives are present to discuss the project and answer your questions.”
Still, when many questions were asked about the future upkeep of the trail, the safety of the current landowners and the access available to current landowners in case of flooding, the comments were that they were only the middlemen and those needed to be addressed to others higher than themselves to answer.
When various landowners asked the repetitive question about current trails that have not been kept up by VDOT, again, they could not answer.
These responses seemed to frustrate many landowners and community members.
Some people present that are looking forward to the scenic trail shared that the landowners “just need to build fences” if they don’t want someone on their property.
While others are just looking forward to biking the beautiful area that many in Craig call “God’s country.”
Several comments were made by both sides that, “if VDOT truly wanted to hear from the communities that they should have had a question-and-answer session, allowing each other to learn about both sides of the arguments that were for and against”.
“This type of “meeting” is not one that seemed caring or concerned, wanting to truly learn about the communities,” many attendees shared. “This seems very political, and they are not even wanting to listen to us.”
Approximately 200 people attended though some said there were more as people came and went during the two-hour time limit.
Some comments and conversations from the attendees were:
Wanda Stull: “I am elderly and a widow and concerned about my safety and others on the trail. It is coming between my land and my brother’s land. We have our home, the trail and then our cabin. Our cabin has already been broken into three times and we have had to deal with that. My concern is that the usage of this money is a want and not a need. VDOT could use the money to maintain the roads that need maintenance we need now. My ditches have not been cleaned out for five years. When my husband was living, he would burn them off every spring. Now I have leaves piled up and the water flows over into my neighbor’s driveway. My neighbors, who are hard workers, will have the trail right in front of their door. To me, especially in this time of economy where people don’t have enough money for food and medicine, to take $35 million to build a trail, makes me totally against it,” she said.
A lady who preferred not to use her name: “I am for the trail and feel it will bring a lot of good opportunities to the county, such as tourism, opportunities for families to get out and hike and walk on a trail that is not difficult, horseback riding, new businesses like bike rental or ice cream shops and things like that,” she said.
Vanessa Rutter: “I am not from here originally and this does not affect our home here now, but we have four children and I think of their future, not only tax purposes. I don’t think they are fully thinking this out and some people will be losing their homes, there is the possible crime especially for elderly people and the question of who will maintain this trail. I just feel you are opening the door for people to walk the trail and case out the area and then come back at night. We live in a different world today,” she said.
Jason Rutter: “I think it is wrong because we moved into this little town to stay away from things like this. If we wanted a trail, we would go visit one and see it, but when you open a trail up to the ones that will walk that trail today, I’m concerned, as our world is really changing. You could bring in dangerous people from different communities. Look on the news today about those kids that are walking those trails and kids are getting kidnapped, murdered, and stopped on the trail. For the government to come in and say we are just going to do this is just wrong. It should be a vote,” he said.
Ronnie Dudding: “Look at what has happened to the Fenwick Mines with no upkeep, and it being taken apart. My biggest concern is that no one will maintain it. They need to get industry in Craig County. The majority of our county is national forest, and they don’t pay taxes,” he said.
Kevin Peters: “I have not seen anything redeeming in this project to begin with therefore I am not for it, as there is no redeeming value in it,” he said.
Diane Hartell: “Well, we are against. There are so many reasons to be against it. I love bike riding and I ride 46 miles at a time when I have a chance, but I don’t want to ride through a cow pasture and get chased by cows who get nervous about their calves, I don’t want to ride and be able to reach out and hit somebody’s porch railing, I don’t want to ride over someone’s driveway between their home and septic tank and there are literally those situations and more,” she said.
Lee Looney: “I would like to make a really good comment as I am against it. It is a waste of money; they will not take care of it and it will bring a lot of unwanted into this county and it will create a lot of rifraf and a lot of trash. I believe it will create a lot of drugs and maybe prostitution. I worked for the parks department for 17 and a half years, I know what it does. They told us to get the answers that we need, we need to take them to the politicians. Those are the last people that will take care of it. Also, what is it going to cost the county? In this county, 35 million dollars could make a lot of improvements without a walking trail, and I just do not think we need it at all,” he said
Steve McGonavall: “I am not from Craig but come out here a lot just to ride my bike up and down that trail even though it is not a legitimate trail. I was on the New River Trail yesterday and only saw three bicyclists and three people walking and it is very similar to this but less beautiful. This will be ok, and I see that we will be driving through peoples yards, and they don’t want that,” he said.
VDOT representative Alex Price shared with Jackie Scruggs Taylor that the road would only be 10 feet in width. When asked about the road going by Wanda Stull’s porch, he stated, “She has concerns about safety and I understand that. It is good to hear comments and concerns as we debate whether to move forward with it. There are people who are against it and I’m sure others that are for it. As we continue to further the design and how we are going to maintain it and also make sure it is safe for owners. There has been no decisions about how to maintain it. The bridges are something VDOT may maintain. Now who is going to pick up trash or to mow would probably be a county thing.” Scruggs assured him that Craig has no funds for that and that other trails had not been maintained and partially closed down. “VDOT could maintain it, but do they have time to? I do not know because if they do it could be less time for them to maintain something else. There is a balance. Sometimes there are groups that maintain trails or volunteer groups.” He agreed that Boy Scouts and Girls Scouts are less and less and that parents don’t want them touching things that are thrown away in today’s day. “We do not know if we will be putting gates up or not, if people embrace it and not destroy it with 4-wheelers and things then maybe there is an opportunity for us to leave them open.” It was mentioned to him that it only takes a few that are loud and destructive that will end up having VDOT to make the decisions to gate the trail, affecting the ones who appreciate the trail as well. Scruggs added that even now, every weekend the forestry trails have to be fixed because the 4-wheelers tear it up. Scruggs mentioned to Price about charging a fee to those who use it, to cover the costs the county has to have for the upkeep as these people get to use it for free. She added that her husband has to buy hunting license which funds also do not stay in the county; they go to Richmond. Price added, “I wish like the Creeper Trail in Damascus, maybe to have the locality develop a plan to generate money by use of the trail. Stull told me that Craig County only has about 5100 people, one of the lowest counties.” When he was told that people move to Craig County to get away from the hustle and bustle of the city kind of life and increased crime possibilities, he made no comment. Scruggs added that Craig has “no one who is taking up for us on this”.
Carrie Crawford: “I am opposed to the trail. I think it is a frivolous waste of money both of state tax dollars and the future expenditures of county funds to maintain it, provide emergency services, and provide police protection and there will be all kinds of expenses that will be associated with this. I don’t think that Craig County can afford it. We have plenty of trails already,” she said.
Tracy Surface: “I am excited about the trail as I ride bikes and have to go to Roanoke or Pulaski County to ride on a good trail. I don’t mountain bike; I would like a nice smooth trail. I don’t ride much but if I had a place here, I may ride more. My husband hates to go to Roanoke but if here he would ride with me here. He had a bypass and I’d like to get him on a bike. I don’t think the people coming out here to ride and walk will break in or destroy people’s property,” she said.
Debbie Snead stated that she was appointed by the board of supervisors to listen to citizen input, understanding each element of each person’s view and to stay neutral.
VDOT District Engineer Ken King was asked why they felt this is a good idea when it will be negatively affecting so many landowners, the county cannot afford the upkeep and the concerns of gating off partitions that landowners need to access their properties or be able to get to their homes upon flooding. He stated that “it is for the project focus to use as a trail for bicyclists, horses, and pedestrians.”
He was asked that since there are already several trails, why $32 million was being spent to copy what is already here and not maintained now. He responded, “The interest that has been shared is having a trail through this beautiful country to enjoy.”
He went on to add that “it can be an amenity for the people of the commonwealth to be able to participate.” It was shared to him that when many people move to Craig or choose to stay in Craig it is for the reason of being away from the avenues that bigger cities offer, which tend to promote trash, violence and other negative happenings and they don’t want people riding through their back yards; that many have children that get to play outside freely. He was asked, “Does it not bother you there are many landowners that you will be disturbing their peace and crossing their properties, driveways, and privacy?” King repeated that “it is a beautiful linear terrain that others would enjoy” and when asked “who” initiated the trail, he stated that “it had been since the 1960s,” though he was reminded that each time it has been brought to the floor, the public has opposed it for all the same reasons they were hearing today.
He directed questions from then to the Salem District Communications Manager Jason Bond. Bond explained that this is one of five trails that the General Assembly was interested in developing and is not initiated by VDOT. “If the trail is to move forward, our role is to deliver the project. So, we appreciate your concerns, but you need to understand our role. The Commonwealth Transportation Board put money behind our work to gather information of what would be needed to deliver this project. I think you should ask the legislator what their rationale was in putting this in. That’s what I would do,” he said.
King reiterated the “beauty of the trail and that it would benefit the commonwealth.” When asked why the other trails haven’t been kept up in Craig and Botetourt, as they are just as beautiful if not more so for some as they go through more country, there was no response.
Bond added that they are “seeking people to come to them to help them to start developing a cost estimate and what will be required to deliver this project. We are here tonight to tell us what we may not know, get information about the trail heads. The $32-35 million is an estimate. We are still working on that, as we just need to bring the bridges to a standard that bicyclists, horses and people can use them. This land is owned by the Commonwealth, and they would like to see it used by more people.”
Many attendees were concerned about the flooding that happens and landowners must have access to the railbed as they do now, hunting will be affected in the area for landowners which will inadvertently increase the bear, deer and other animal populations which affect crop owners and landowners.
A survey paper was available for attendees to obtain.
Those who would like to comment can do so by sending them to [email protected], reference Craig Botetourt Scenic Trail in the subject heading.
There is also a comment sheet online at htts://www.virginiadot.org.cbst, however navigating to find it is not easy at all.
Project manager Kelly Dunn can be contacted by phone (540) 387-5353 and it was strongly suggested that owners contact Del. Terry Austin with their concerns immediately.
A major concern is that VDOT stated that 10 days after the second meeting the public comments period will close which will be on Oct. 1.