Shenandoah eyes old rail line as trail to prosperity
Woodstock Mayor Jeremy McCleary has a vision.
On a vacated railroad line that runs nearly 50 miles, from just outside Front Royal through Shenandoah County and down to the Rockingham County town of Broadway, McCleary envisions creating a trail for bicyclists, walkers and runners. The trail’s planned pathway wanders through Civil War battlefields, connecting to 12 miles of trails in Woodstock’s new Seven Bends State Park and the George Washington National Forest.
Most importantly, McCleary says, “It runs through the spine of each of the towns along the way,” drawing tourists and sparking economic development all along the corridor.
This vision is informally known as the Shenandoah Valley Rail Trail, a proposed pedestrian throughfare that local leaders hope will be a boon to local businesses. Richmond-based Chmura Economics & Analytics LLC estimates the trail could attract 280,334 visitors per year, generating a $15.5 million economic impact annually and 140 jobs. The land for the trail is owned by Norfolk Southern Railway, which is open to selling it.
The idea for the trail began in 2010, when Brandon Davis, executive director of the Northern Shenandoah Valley Regional Commission, proposed it as a Shenandoah County planner. The concept got a boost in 2016 after McCleary appointed a committee in the hopes of making it real. Finally, during its 2020 special session, the General Assembly approved a feasibility study for the project.
Because the legislature didn’t make an allocation for the trail project, Jennifer Wampler, the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation’s trail coordinator, must work to secure funding. That effort may entail seeking funds from local governments and stakeholders, as well as looking to studies and real-life examples for models.
“We [already] have a 57-mile rail trail that can offer us a lot of insights into what some of the operational costs will be,” Wampler explains, referring to the rail trail the department has managed since 1987 at New River Trail State Park in Southwest Virginia.
DCR must now examine the Shenandoah-area corridor, determine acquisition costs, explore how the trail would be managed and measure local support for the project.
McCleary has confidence in the latter topic.
“People that wouldn’t agree on a whole lot of stuff agree on this particular issue,” he says. “This could be so fantastic for our community and for the region.”
The results of the feasibility study are due to the legislature by November.