ON ARCHITECTURE- Get going: Trail project connects City dots

When the 250 bypass cut
through McIntire Park, it severed the small parcel of land that now runs
from the skate park to the McIntire Recycling Center. Set adrift, it has
nicely accommodated the skate park, but the wide section of land between
the end of Harris Street and the recycling center has always remained
largely off-limits to public use– except for the occasional ArtInPlace
installation. 

class="p1">That could change this week as the city begins construction
of a $20,000 "walking trail" project that was adopted in 2003 as part of
the city's Bicycle & Pedestrian Master Plan– one more piece of the
puzzle linking the city's parks and public spaces with walking and
biking trails.  class="p1">"It's been a fairly easy process," says Parks and Rec chief
Mike Svetz. "It just kind of materialized."

The stars
began to align in June when the city hired Chris Gensic as the Park
& Trail Planner, a new position created with the hope of realizing
the ambitious Plan. The walking trail along McIntire Road is Gensic's
first trail project since he started the job, and he hopes it will be a
showcase of what's to come.

"It's a highly visible
corridor," says Gensic, "and we hope it will be good marketing for our
other trails." Although the new trail currently goes nowhere– it
dead-ends at both ends– Gensic says it will eventually hook up with the
Greenbelt at Riverview Park. But that completion is about a year away,
he says.

The trail will be made of crushed stone,
similar to the Sanders Trail at Monticello, to facilitate better
drainage and encourage foot traffic. Gensic is also working with a team
of allies on the project, including ArtInPlace, the Charlottesville
Master Gardeners, the recycling center, and the Living Education Center
for Ecology and the Arts. class="Apple-converted-space"> 

The reason
the project has materialized so quickly, says Gensic, is that everyone
involved already had an interest in the site. class="Apple-converted-space"> 

Two weeks
ago, ArtInPlace, the non-profit organization that has turned our
roadways into art galleries over the last five years, installed two new
"small scale" sculptures in anticipation of the trail. In coordination
with Gensic, sculptor Wendy Klemperer installed two life-like elk made
of twisted scraps of rebar at one end of the site, while an abstract
wooden chair went up at the other end. class="Apple-converted-space"> 

The Master
Gardeners will work with Gensic to create flower gardens and other
landscaping along the trail. Finally, Gensic will coordinate with
students and teachers from The Living Education Center to draw attention
to Schenck's Branch, a small stream running between the trail site and
Harris Street. Gensic also hopes to build an information kiosk on the
site in the Spring, as well as an overlook above the stream and possibly
a bridge to the recycling center.

"We hope the
trail project will invite people on to the land," says Gensic, "to walk,
to see the art. We also hope the art, the nature, and the trail will
make the creek more visible."

That's good news to
Ernie Reed, director of the The Living Education Center, an alternative
school which probably invested more sweat equity in the site than
anyone. Six years ago, the school adopted Schenck's Branch and began an
effort to clean and monitor the neglected stream. Indeed, even the Plan
refers to it as an "existing drainage ditch," a characterazation that
Reed hopes the trail will correct.

"The stream was
dredged," says Reed. "Originally, it wasn't straight; it kind of snaked
through the site which was once a swampy, marshy area." He says the
stream winds behind the skate park, under Route 250, back to McIntire
Park, to Meadow Creek, then past the north side of Melbourne Road and
into the Rivanna River. "What goes into Schenck's Branch goes right into
the Rivanna," says Reed.

In addition to caring for the
stream, the school has also battled Allied Concrete on Harris Street by
documenting and making the city aware of the "extreme" quantities of
concrete residue they found in the stream. "We've had good cooperation
from Allied," says Reed. "But they could do a lot more.

class="p1">"It's on the state's impaired waterways list," Reed
continues, " because it has such a high fecal coliform level, which
comes from run off under the city, mostly human waste. There are cracks
in the system, so to speak."

As part of the project,
the school plans to install signage along the creek to tell people about
the history of Schenk's Branch– and its future. Reed also encourages
the city to install a crosswalk on McIntire Road to make it easier to
enjoy the new trail.

"There's a long-term vision here
that's really possible," says Reed, "to make Schenck's Branch a stream
the city can be proud of."

For now, Gensic says he's
just happy to be "getting it on the ground" and starting the long
process of connecting our parks and trails. Oh, and if you have any
ideas on what to name the new walking trail, Gensic is open to
suggestions.

src="/images/issues/2006/0546/onarch-walkingpark.jpg">
City trail
planner Chris Gensic and ArtInPlace founder Elizabeth Breeden oversee
the installation of a new sculpture on McIntire Road. The city hopes a
new walking trail here will draw attention to public art, an endangered
stream, and efforts to link trails and parks.

PHOTO BY DAVE
MCNAIR