Last week, a new 3-mile trail was opened along the Rivanna River, the Old Mills Trail, that connects Darden Towe Park to the new Martha Jefferson Hospital, and is designed for walkers, runners, hikers, and bikers. That might not seem like big news, given that there's already a trail on the opposite bank, but as Bob Crickenberger, director of the Albemarle County Department of Parks and Recreation, pointed out at an early morning dedication ceremony on November 16, this little trail was over 10 years in the making.
"A tremendous amount of time and energy went into constructing this trail," Crickeberger told the small crowd, pointing out that the rough terrain required construction crews to hand-carry materials for three pedestrian bridges to the construction staging sites.
As County Supervior Ken Boyd pointed out, the trail will eventually connect up with the Lewis and Clark Exploratory Center, which plans to put in a pull ferry that will finally connect the County's network of trails across the Rivanna. In addition, Boyd said the next big leg of the trail would take it southeast, all the way to the Shadwell area.
"There is one negative thing," Boyd joked. "A friend of mine said he was going to miss the challenge of having to cross the stream on downed trees."
Crickenberger made a point of thanking Dan Mahon, the County's Outdoor Recreation Supervisor, who laid the groundwork for the trail's completion, and who even went knocking on doors to get the needed easements from property owners along the trail's path.
"He found a lot of closed doors," said Crickenberger, "but he can be very stubborn, and he believed in this, and he won the trust of so many people."
"It was a wilderness down that trail," said Mahone, "and we had to open up some pretty wild riparian forest."
Indeed, actual construction may have been a lot easier than getting property owners to allow the trail to pass through their property, but there were some generous offers. Mead Builders said yes on the first try, and State Farm actually gifted 10 acres for the project. As Mahone pointed out, though, the partnership with the landowners really begins with the trail's opening.
"That's when we start becoming neighbors," says Mahone. "That's when you find out what opening your land to the public really means."
Before Boyd performed his ribbon-cutting duties, Crickenberger had a little surprise for the long-time supporter of the project: a fancy sign on one of the footbridges: "Boyd's Crossing."
"I have only one request," Crickenberger told Boyd, "if you ever get mad at me, look at the sign."
The Old Mills Trail is a part of Albemarle County’s Rivanna River Greenways and Blueways system, which will follow the river from North Fork all the way into Fluvanna County. The pathway on the Charlottesville side of town is the Rivanna Trail.