Scottie’s 2021 Wrap Up
As we wrap up 2021, we are asking for your support to help us Spread Pixie Dust in the Valley and ensure everyone has access to safe accessible biking and walking. Can you help us reach our 2021 Pixie Dust goals before January 1? We are asking our members and our broader network to support our campaign and please consider a donation to help us continue Building Better Communities in the Valley.Donate
Greeting, friends of the Shenandoah Valley Bicycle Coalition! This year has absolutely flown by, and it’s hard to believe that I’m here writing another year-end letter to you. I’m extremely proud of what the Coalition has accomplished this year. The theme of 2021 for the Coalition was Build. I want to talk about two significant examples because they illustrate what the Coalition can do and how it can do it.
Narrowback Trail Improvements
First, I want to talk about the re-route of the Narrowback West Trail in the George Washington National Forest. It’s only technically a re-route. The old Narrowback West was in rough shape and inaccessible for many visitors. Your Coalition built over 2 miles of new trail connecting directly from the Wolf Ridge Trail Parking Lot to the ridge on Narrowback Mountain. But we didn’t just go out and build a trail – this process started three years ago with applying for a Recreational Trails Program (RTP) grant.
Grants like the RTP greatly increase our capacity and help us bring additional resources to our public lands. We proposed a specific project to the Forest Service to apply for the grant and start the process. When looking at potential projects, improving the accessibility and connectivity of trails on Narrowback became our top priority. We wanted to create a trail that would be lower maintenance, more accessible, and provide an experience that is currently lacking in the National Forest.
After we were awarded the grant, we worked with the Forest Service to perform the environmental and cultural analysis for the proposal. We hung flags to identify our proposed alignment and hired a contractor to complete the environmental analysis. The Forest Service also opened up a public comment period. Thanks to you, they received an overwhelmingly positive response. From our membership, network, and other trail users. By the end of 2020, we secured approval to build the trail along the proposed alignment with all the necessary federal and state agencies giving the OK.
Construction of Narrowback Trails
Once approved, the real fun began. At the beginning of 2021, we solicited bids from contractors and awarded the project to Appalachian Dirt. We like to believe that volunteers build and maintain all our trails. Yet, the reality is that if we want a quality trail experience built within a single season, it is often beyond the capacity of volunteers alone. In addition, creating more accessible trails in the National Forest usually requires construction with a machine and the help of a professional trail building company.
Volunteers are the lifeblood of the Coalition, and we’ve had incredible volunteer trail work days on the new Narrowback trail. Often overlooked, our behind-the-scenes volunteer impact centered on helping our staff secure and administer the RTP grant and monitoring the work done on the ground.
This model isn’t new for the Coalition – we followed a similar model for the Wolf Ridge Trail, the Dowell’s/Magic Moss trail re-routes, and the original Tillman West/Tower trail builds. Your Coalition has an outsized impact on improving trails in the National Forest. It’s possible because we have great volunteers to apply for, organize, and administer large grants to hire professional trail builders to get work done on the ground.
Unfortunately, these grants do not cover the full cost of the project. Matching funds are required from the Coalition, matching funds that we come up with both through the generosity of our membership and through volunteer trail work hours. The time volunteers spend on trail work counts towards the matching funds, and we are so thankful for everyone who has come out to dig and everyone who has donated. We also used this grant for much-needed maintenance on the Tillman West Trail. The recent work rehabilitated one of the most ridden trails in the National Forest, improving drainage, tread surface, and features.
Reflecting on Narrowback Trail Improvements
This work took multiple years, but the end result is an incredible new trail experience for the National Forest. Along with increased connectivity to popular trails and to one of our most popular parking lots. It opens up the Narrowback Mountain trails to a wide range of new people, and if you haven’t gotten out there to check it out, I recommend you get out there soon! I’ve ridden, hiked, and run on this trail and am blown away every time at how nice a trail it is. Winding through alternating pine/oak timber sales, it has lovely views of Shenandoah Mountain, and it’s just a great way to quickly get into the woods. It was a complicated process to get it there. Still, it’s a process the Coalition knows how to navigate and is eager to replicate again and again with your support.
What other trails would you like to see re-routed in the Geroge Washington National Forest? Where would you like to see new trail connections? What maintenance work do you want to see accomplished? CONTACT US and let us know. We are constantly looking to improve the user experience in the National Forest for everyone. Our volunteers and donors make that happen, so thank you for your support!
Connect Our Schools Campaign
The second major project I want to talk about is an even longer-term campaign by the Coalition, one that started even before I was here. The Coalition amplified a community vision for a greenway to connect schools in Harrisonburg. A vision to allow students, parents, and the broader community to easily get between schools and their homes by walking or biking.
The Connect Our Schools campaign aimed to convince the city of Harrisonburg to build a shared-use path to connect Harrisonburg High School, Bluestone Elementary School, and Thomas Harrison Middle School. This took a couple years of engaging the city council, meeting with public works, and encouraging our elected officials and city staff to come up with a way to build this project. While the Coalition can secure grants to build natural surface trails, paved multi-use paths are much more expensive to construct and often best left to municipalities.
How Did We Do It?
The Coalition’s role was and is to organize a concentrated push to help elected officials and key decision-makers recognize walking and biking connectivity as a priority and allocate the resources to build it. This means showing up for a range of city meetings to advocate through the proper channels and engaging at nearly every level of local government. At the end of the day, our community made this project a reality by convincing our elected officials to make it happen.
All of this requires competent and consistent community-centered organizing. During this campaign, we discovered that an all-volunteer organization wasn’t enough. If the Coalition wanted to continue growing our impact and expanding our campaigns, we would need staff to focus on these projects and bring our energy together. Enter our excellent executive director, who has helped us continue this push.
Our Campaign Worked!
The campaign worked, and local decision-makers responded to a clear desire by the community to Connect Our Schools for walking and biking. By 2017 the city had determined a complete corridor for the trail. A few uncooperative property owners declined to allow necessary easements to build the trail. In turn, the entire project was in jeopardy, so the Coalition pushed for public works and parks and recreation to come together to work out a way for the greenway to be located along the edge of the golf course, which was already city property. A plan was worked out, and the city allocated funding and secured the rest of the right of way. In 2021, construction began on the Friendly City Trail and has continued at a frenetic pace, with completion expected any day now.
From the first conception over five years ago to completed construction, the Coalition helped the community make a successful case for constructing a greenway to connect three schools in Harrisonburg. But we don’t want to stop there – there are more schools in Harrisonburg without safe routes to walk or bike to them, and there are loads of schools in Rockingham County. This work is even more behind the scenes than our trail work on public lands but is absolutely essential. We want to see walking and biking access for all of our schools and our communities. The way we will accomplish that will be through organized and concerted community engagement supported by Coalition staff.
Your support has made the Coalition’s work possible, and for the next round, we will continue to rely on your support as we spin up more greenway campaigns. We can’t help but notice that the new Harrisonburg high school will be built without a safe way to reach the building by walking or biking. Increasingly, our communities are looking at extensive funding opportunities to advance walking and biking. Still, we have to continue making a case for safe and equitable access to walking and biking for everyone. Your support makes that possible.
We’ve done a lot of other work this year, but I wanted to give a behind-the-scenes look at some of our more significant campaigns and show you how they’ve come to fruition so that you can help us with the next round. We are playing a long game with much of our work, and typically, we are looking at multi-year projects. We want to continue and start more of them and dream big about building better communities here in the Shenandoah Valley.
We’re proud of what we’ve already accomplished, and we appreciate all the support we’ve received, but this is only the beginning; ask yourself what you want to see your community look like and how you want to move, work and play here, and push us to make that a reality, with your support we can dream big and build big.
Happy new year, and here’s looking to more success in 2022 and years beyond!
Chair of the Coalition Board of Directors