On Tuesday, we stood alongside elected officials, town and county staff and partners at the Edinburg Mill in a public reiteration of support for the Shenandoah Rail Trail, the proposal to convert the unused 49-mile rail corridor connecting communities between Broadway in Rockingham County and Front Royal in Warren County into a multi-use trail.
This event was prompted by the surprising news that the Shenandoah Valley Battlefields Foundation has entered into a Letter of Intent with Norfolk Southern to purchase the rail corridor for a different project, and that they plan to use the state funds allocated for the Shenandoah Rail Trail.
The Shenandoah Valley Battlefields Foundation is a long-standing partner of the Alliance and our legacy groups before us. Going back to my first day on the job in 2009, SVBF staff were my first and closest colleagues, and their work aligns with our goals to preserve historic resources and protect farmland. That’s why it was particularly difficult for me to learn that they had taken this step.
If it is built, the Shenandoah Rail Trail will be an iconic, destination trail, bringing new visitor spending to nearby towns to bolster existing businesses and create opportunity for entrepreneurship. It will preserve the historic corridor and introduce visitors of all ages and backgrounds to the extraordinary cultural and natural resources of our region. And for the locals, it will be a close-to-home place for people to get out, providing a safe and convenient connection to get where you’re going.
I am confident that the public benefit of the Shenandoah Rail Trail would far exceed the Shenandoah Valley Battlefields Foundation concept, which we understand includes segments of an excursion train and segments of rail-with-trail.
More importantly, the Shenandoah Rail Trail is what the communities along the corridor have said that they want, time and again. All nine towns and three counties have been working towards this for more than six years. Hear from our local elected officials, in their own words, in the press coverage from yesterday: NVD and DNR Town officials speak out in support of rails to trails plan, WHSV Local leaders show support for Shenandoah Rail Trail, and Royal Examiner Unity and Vision: Local leaders rally for the Shenandoah Rail Trail amid surprising proposal shift.
Despite this concerning development, I remain hopeful about this wonderful project. Perhaps the best and most feasible ideas from the Battlefields Foundation concept can be incorporated into the Shenandoah Rail Trail, and we end up with a trail that reflects the best thinking of our community members and delivers greater access to our extraordinary historic and natural resources.
In the meantime, please take a second to listen to the statements from elected officials along the corridor and sign (and share) the petition of support for the rail trail.