A vision took a major step toward becoming reality Friday afternoon when Jenn Million, president of the New River Valley Bicycle Association, and Scott Owens, the association’s immediate past president, presented a mockup check for $21,436.24 to John E. Eustis, executive director of the New River Land Trust.
The money raised will be used to pay a contractor to begin work on what is known as the Brush Mountain Trails Project. This will involve the building of 10-12 miles of trails and connecting two non-adjacent pieces of property with trails.
The fundraiser under the name of the Four for Eight Campaign was spurred by the bicycle association’s commitment to donating up to $5,000 to the effort to match other donations. That goal of $10,000 was met and surpassed within a few days, thanks to donations from the Blacksburg Sliders, a local running group; the Blue Ridge Outdoor Cyclists; and the Back Country Horsemen of America. That allowed the resetting of the campaign’s goal to $20,000, which was met within a few weeks and led to Friday’s check presentation.
With that money in hand, Eustis said the only obstacles holding up work on the sites are the securing of the permits. He said he expected the permit for the first site to be received in less than a month, after which construction should begin in late spring or early summer. The land trust executive director said he hoped the permits for the work on the second site could be signed off on in the spring.
Though the fundraiser represented a major step in the project, Eustis said its completion will take “a few years with a substantial amount of the work done within the next three years.”
The Town of Blacksburg is actively involved in the project, in 2019 acquiring agreements for the rights-of-way through some private property that will allow the trails from the two sites to be connected. Plans call for the two properties to be transferred to the town in 2020 to become part of the town’s parks system.
The Brush Mountain Trails project began in earnest in early 2019 when two properties were acquired by the New River Land Trust thanks to a $1.2 million grant from the Virginia Outdoor Foundation’s Forest CORE Fund. This fund was established to mitigate forest fragmentation resulting from the clearing activities along the Mountain Valley Pipeline’s right-of-way through Virginia. The two largely undeveloped, non-adjacent sites comprise 552 acres on the south face of Brush Mountain. They are located north of Meadowbrook Road and are contiguous with the Jefferson National Forest.
Then in partnership with the Land Trust, the Town of Blacksburg helped to convene a stakeholder team to assist in creating a concept plan for how the parcels could be developed to provide a range of new hiking, biking, horseback riding and exploring options for residents and visitors alike.
That stakeholder team comprised representatives from diverse user groups, including trail runners and hikers, mountain bikers, environmental educators and organizational stakeholders such as the Poverty Creek Trail Coalition and the U.S. Forest Service.
The team’s vision for the project is that it will expand the range of recreational and educational opportunities in Blacksburg through the creation of an urban forest preserve and trail system. The project will connect the Huckleberry Trail, Heritage and Gateway parks and the George Washington and Jefferson National Forest.