Action in the General Assembly on Shenandoah Rail Trail
Learn more about the Shenandoah Rail Trail Partnership here!
On Thursday August 27, Delegate Tony Wilt (R-Harrisonburg) will speak about a budget language amendment (Item #374, #1h) that he introduced in the current special session of the Virginia General Assembly. The amendment authorizes the Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR) to conduct a feasibility study for a rail trail in the Northern Shenandoah Valley. Current statutory and budget requirements do not permit DCR to even explore the possibility of a new state park or state park project without express approval of the General Assembly, so the purpose of this amendment is to address this hurdle and take the first step.
Language of the Proposed Budget Amendment:
ITEM #374, #1hP. The Department of Conservation and Recreation shall, no later than November 1, 2021, provide to the Chairs of the House Committee on Appropriations and the Senate Committee on Finance and Appropriations an assessment of the feasibility for development of a linear park along the Shenandoah Valley rail corridor from Front Royal to Broadway, Virginia. The assessment shall include the potential timeline for abandonment of existing Norfolk Southern rail sections B51.0 to B84.0 and CW84.0 to CW99.5, anticipated annual user revenues, and all start-up and ongoing costs of operation as a satellite facility of Seven Bends and Shenandoah State Parks. The Departments of Transportation and Rail and Public Transportation shall provide any technical assistance as may be required in developing the cost assessment.
Converting this unused rail corridor into multi-use recreational trail enjoys broad support from the community. In fact, mayors, town councilmembers, county representatives and non-profits along the corridor formed the Shenandoah Rail Trail Exploratory Partnership in 2019 to assess the possibilities of a trail from Broadway to Strasburg, connecting two counties, eight communities, many historic and cultural resources and multiple schools and businesses. These local leaders have been working hard within the Partnership to find the best fit for the rail company, the localities, and our communities.
The Partnership envisions converting this significant, unused resource running through our towns, once an integral part of the Shenandoah Valley, into an asset once again, serving local communities, visitors, and creating new economic opportunities. There is an active freight corridor in the Shenandoah Valley that parallels this discontinued line and has received significant investment and improvement by Norfolk Southern and the Commonwealth.
Rail trail projects are transformational for communities where they are developed and are a benefit to all Virginians. In the Commonwealth, there are several extremely popular rail trails. In southwestern Virginia, the 57-mile New River Trail sees about 1 million visitors annually and contributes over $15 million to the local economy. The 31-mile High Bridge Rail-Trail in Farmville, completed in 2012, is referred to as the economic engine and backbone of the community. The Partnership anticipates similar results with the Shenandoah Rail Trail—widespread and lasting benefits for public health, quality of life, and the local economy, if the rail trail is developed.