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Turning a Landfill into Singletrack Treasure in Virginia is No Easy Task

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This article originally appeared on Singletracks.com

The Shenandoah Valley Bicycle Coalition is turning an old landfill into a mountain bike center in Waynesboro, Virginia.

With more and more towns and counties realizing how mountain biking can translate to tourism dollars in their area, it isn’t surprising to see some creative trail plans. And while we have seen similar ideas before, perhaps none is more surprising than trails built on old landfills.

That is exactly what the City of Waynesboro, Virginia, and the Shenandoah Valley Bicycle Coalition (SVBC) are doing. The proposed plan anticipates seeing over four miles of trails built in Waynesboro’s Sunset Park, once the area’s landfill, closed in 2003. Facilities like restrooms, picnic areas, and overlooks are already underway in the park.

Beginner and intermediate trails are the focus for Sunset Park. SVBC hopes to not only bring more mountain bikers to the area but also provide a place for new riders to the sport. More advanced trails are located nearby.

We wanted to know more about the SVBC’s plans to turn “undesirable” land into a community park with multi-use trails, so we sat down with their executive director.

Getting to know the Bicycle Coalition

 

The Shenandoah Valley Bicycle Coalition (SVBC) has been around since the 1980s and the organization started working with mountain bike trails in the mid-90s according to their executive director Kyle Lawrence.

“We have a long history in the Shenandoah Valley,” said Lawrence. “We’ve done a lot of work on public lands, specifically National Forests, because we have a lot of National Forests here– one of the largest concentrations on the east coast.”

Lawrence calls Harrisonburg, Virginia, home. He became a part of the vibrant mountain bike community during his college days, riding and digging trail on a weekly basis. Along with the area’s easy access to the outdoors, it was an easy choice for Lawrence to stick around after his college years.

“I got sucked into a really vibrant bike community early on,” Lawrence told us. His involvement in the mountain biking community eventually led to Lawrence becoming the Executive Director, and only paid staff member of SVBC.

Lawrence leads a massive team of volunteers who are passionate about the trails in the pockets of Virginia which they call home. The SVBC is bigger than just a mountain bike coalition.

As Lawrence explained, “The coalition does advocacy for bike lanes and greenways, riding for transportation, and all types of biking and walking. It’s really a strength because it increases our numbers, and mountain biking really brings the fun into it.”

Sunset Park’s Trail Plans

Lawrence explained the past and present of Waynesboro, a city that once upon a time had the most residents with Ph. D.s per capita in the state. A DuPont Chemicals research facility was to thank for that.

“Waynesboro is a city in the valley that is underserved as far as trails. There is nothing in town.”

But eventually, Dupont departed, leaving a void in the city.

“Dupont has left and the city has gone through some post-industrial challenges with lots of industrial leftovers, including really bad mercury pollution in the river,” said Lawrence “And this park—Sunset Park—is the old landfill.”

Now, a view from downtown Waynesboro displays a wonderful view of Sunset Park. A few decades ago, downtown visitors would have seen an open landfill.

Lawrence shared how Sunset Park is emblematic of Waynesboro itself. Waynesboro is taking every opportunity to invest in the outdoors and natural resources in the surrounding area. Perhaps a new industry is coming to Waynesboro.

Along with reclaiming the former landfill, the trails plan calls for parking, restroom facilities, overlooks, and paths accessible to all.

The mountain bike trails “will be going off the back, into the wooded area,” Lawrence said. Four miles of trails have already been walked and flagged, and are awaiting the green light. This green light, of course, requires funding.

Along with skills areas, the trails at Sunset Park will be a mix of wider gravel paths to traditional singletrack. Several green and blue XC trails are in the works as well as a tech trail and gravity-oriented flow trail.

SVBC is incorporating progression into the proposed trails, reflected in the proposal. Newer riders grow more confident as green trails give way to blue. While the trail system may cater to beginners, SVBC is considering more advanced riders, planning on optional side hits on Sunset Park’s more difficult trails.

Sunset Park and SVBC also considered adaptive riders as they began mapping out trails. A handful of the proposed trails, including the gravity-oriented flow trail, will be cut wider to accommodate adaptive bikes.

Trails will connect at different intersections. With the area being somewhat small, the trails should be easy to lap and get back to the top, or the top of the trail system, that is. There aren’t any plans for the top, or the cap, of the landfill yet.

“We’re not going to build on top of the landfill because you have to import dirt,” said Lawrence. “It may be that a pump track or something will be built on top with imported material in the future. But, for obvious reasons, we can’t dig into the landfill cap.”

Sunset Park seems to be situated in the epicenter of activity for the area. Downtown Waynesboro, the Blue Ridge Tunnel, greenways, and Shenandoah National Park, are nearby, all with the possibility of being linked.

“We’re setting the stage for what is going to be a really phenomenal array of outdoor recreation activities very close to downtown Waynesboro and their existing greenway network.”

Not only will Sunset Park be turning a landfill into a recreation area, but it will offer the community two additional things. First is nearby recreation trails, something lacking in the area. Second is an accessible trail network. Lawrence shared the very rugged nature of trails surrounding Waynesboro, saying that often these trails scare off beginners. SVBC looks to hire professional trail builders at Sunset Park to bring trail recreation to the Waynesboro community.

Finding funding for Sunset Park

The City of Waynesboro owns Sunset Park and is currently managed by the Waynesboro’s Parks and Recreation Department. The park is due to officially open at the end of 2023.

“One of the delays to building trails there was that it was not an official park with official public access and amenities,” said Lawrence. When Lawrence and SVBC saw the city moving forward with the park, they felt it was the right time to get an official trail proposal for the area.

Lawrence told us how locals talked about installing trails in the Sunset Park area for a long time. Plans and ideas for trails, mostly handbuilt and volunteer-based, died in the past, but the limited size of the property made it difficult to actualize any plans for the park.

“When you have a constrained property with some elevation, you really need to be thorough and think through how you lay out and design your trail system,” said Lawrence “That’s why we brought in Trail Solutions for the Trail Accelerator Grant to lay out a full trail plan for the property.”

IMBA’s Trail Accelerator Grant provides professional trail planning services to recipients of the award. The hope is that by helping trail organizations with the proposal and planning process, more agencies—local, state, and national—will help fund the project.

“Having the Trail Accelerator grant is really important because it breaks down all the phases and all the trails and puts cost estimates on them,” said Lawrence. “When people look at it, they can really see what they are getting, what they are funding. They come away with a true cost because for so many years we’ve undervalued what it costs to build a trail properly.”

Organizations stepped up to help SVBC acquire funds. The catch with IMBA’s Trail Accelerator Grants is that they require a cash match. A local community foundation and the Virginia Outdoors Foundation were able to help there, matching IMBA’s grant. More funds have come from the Fox Trails Trust. SVBC is looking for more ways to fund the trails and is actively applying for grants and working with different organizations.

“We have a lot going on to raise the money to build the trails. The city does not currently have the funds for trail construction, just the park, so we’re working on building phase one of the trails.”

Lawrence seems optimistic about funding for the trails. While SVBC is looking for funds to complete the project, they are also seeing the need to build a mountain biking community and it’s just as important as building trails.

“You need some trails before people get excited about them,” Lawrence told us. “Once we build that first phase in early 2024, we’ll get that flywheel turning, and it’ll be easy to fundraise for the next one.”

I’m Travis, a teacher turned stay-at-home dad turned freelance writer. I returned to mountain biking at a critical time in my life and it quickly became my passion once again. I feel fortunate to get to share my thoughts, ideas, and adventures on two wheels. See you on the trails!

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