Marty Gordon, Contributing writer
Walkers along the Huckleberry Trail will now be able to go a little further as Christiansburg has officially opened a new leg from Cambria Street to the Food Lion Shopping Center along North Franklin Street. Town leaders, local planners and trail enthusiasts gathered Friday in the cold temperatures to cut a ribbon for the “Huckleberry South Trail,” an approximate half-mile path that was completed earlier this fall.
The project cost $358,767 with the Virginia Department of Transportation providing 80 percent of the monies and the town funding the remaining 20 percent. Almost two miles of the Huckleberry now stretches into Christiansburg, which has been very aggressive with its trail system, adding a bridge across Peppers Ferry Road in 2015 and then extending the Huckleberry to Cambria Street.
Most of that project received funding from a donation via the Renva W. Knowles estate, a woman who long believed in the beauty within the town and wanted trails and parks to prosper.
The town named the bridge after Knowles during the widening of Peppers Ferry Road and Route 114. The Virginia Department of Transportation covered the majority of the cost of the bridge, so the town was able to use funds from the Knowles family to extend the paved trail.
Parks and Recreation Director Brad Epperley called this extension another opportunity to attract new visitors to Christiansburg.
“We are extremely happy to be able to provide the Huckleberry South Trail as an additional leg of the Huckleberry Trail. It gives me much excitement and satisfaction to see the overwhelming use of the trails within our community. It also provides more initiative to continue find ways to better build our trails system for additional connectivity within our community,” he said.
Councilman Brad Stipes has been instrumental in extending the trail as part of a larger effort by the town’s bikeway/walkway committee.
He called the move a transformation.
“The Huckleberry Trail represents a glowing and positive step in transforming the character and appeal of our community,” Stipes said.
He said the trail has made the community healthier, happier and more cohesive, and maybe helped to attract, and will continue to do so, new residents to Christiansburg.
“Trail users might be exploring the area to decide if Christiansburg is the right place for them to live,” he said.
The Huckleberry Trail now totals close to eight miles, connecting the towns of Blacksburg and Christiansburg. The trail takes it’s named from the former route of the Virginia Anthracite Coal and Railway Company that was nicknamed the “Huckleberry” because rail passengers would pick huckleberries along the rail line during stops.
Upon the elimination of the passenger line in 1967, local residents had always wondered if there was a use for the abandoned path. In 1994, construction began on the rails-to-trails project and it was officially opened in early 1996. Since then, additional phases have pushed the trail from Blacksburg and the Virginia Tech campus to Christiansburg.
Future plans call for the trail to be extended to the Blacksburg’s Heritage Community Park and Jefferson National Forest’s Gateway Trail.
The Huckleberry Trail has been recognized as one of the nation’s “Community Millennium Trails,” and Christiansburg officials believe the extension of the trail is a positive point for everyone involved.
“As we move towards our goal of reaching downtown with our trail system this is a distinct step in the right direction. We want to be able to connect our community with our recreational facilities, schools, parks, neighborhoods and our businesses. These connections not only develop recreational uses but they also provide non-motorized transportation for employees and students to get to work and school. This in turn helps with the social and economic development of our community,” Epperley said.
Already that step is in the works as the town is completing acquisition of easements that will push the trail to Christiansburg High School. Work could start as early as late spring.
From there, the Huckleberry will join a larger path along Independence Boulevard, traversing into downtown Christiansburg.
Stipes said the trail is something really special and more people need to come see and use it.
The town hopes to extend the trail into the downtown area and connect with its Farmer’s Market. A separate trail is also being planned that would connect citizens from Cambria and Roanoke Street to the Huckleberry Trail along the Norfolk Southern rail path and Crab Creek corridor.