Pave paradise? Greenbelt trail asphalted

The city is spiffing up the Greenbelt trail near Riverview Park, but not everyone loves idea of a mile's worth of asphalt along the Rivanna River.

"It wasn't my first choice," says Woolen Mills resident Peggy Van Yahres. "I liked it the old way. It looked natural."

Neighbor Kay Slaughter also preferred the old trail, which was tar-and-gravel. "I wanted it improved enough so that people can use it," says Slaughter, "but keep it natural."

City parks official Pat Plocek says the old trail was breaking up and was no longer handicapped-accessible because of potholes. "This is a safer surface," he says.

The $111,000 paving project, which began March 22, will cost the city $11,000 after a $100,000 state trails grant.

"We bid it out last fall and got a $200,000 bid because pavers were backed up from all the rain," explains Plocek. "We saved over $100,000 by waiting."

The original section of Greenbelt stretches from Riverview Park to Free Bridge. Another unimproved half-mile of trail stretches north of the bridge to the VFW Lodge on River Road, and neighborhood development chief Jim Tolbert says a federal Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act (ISTEA) grant is in the works to pave that as well.

Plocek met with Woolen Mills residents, who nixed the idea of a 10-foot wide asphalt trail, although that would have met federal standards. "There are parts that would have to stay eight feet because of the rock ridge on one side and the river on the other," concedes Plocek.

Trail frequenters like Van Yahres and Slaughter are resigned to their freshly paved paradise. "Over time, it will mellow," predicts Van Yahres.

"Once it's flooded a couple times and has sand on it, this stuff is likely to break up," says Slaughter.

She points out that the resurfaced trail will be good for people who like to rollerblade. Will the former mayor take up rollerblading? "No," says Slaughter, who decries improvements that "don't actually improve."

Plocek, however, doesn't think the asphalt surface detracts from the park-like setting along the river and the view of the ducks. "It's picturesque," he says.