Even though you may just now be hearing about the potential of a Shenandoah Valley Rail Trail, the idea of converting the unused north-south rail corridor in Shenandoah and Rockingham counties was sparked back in 2016 when the town of Woodstock formed the Woodstock Exploratory Rails to Trails Committee.
The committee and community members from the six towns along the rail corridor in Shenandoah County met regularly, hosted guest speakers, attended several greenway conferences and visited other successful rail-trails around the state to better understand the complexities of making a multi-use trail a reality.
Among the many important things they learned early on was that there was very little chance that the rail owner, Norfolk Southern, would ever put the track back into freight operation. And even if it did, the operation of a single track line wouldn’t be enough to effectively decrease freight traffic on I-81 (a well-known and pressing issue in the Valley). This knowledge solidified the idea that it was worth continuing to explore how the corridor could be converted to serve the communities it passes through once again.
By 2018, word of the possibility of a Shenandoah Valley Rail Trail made it to folks in the Rockingham County towns of Broadway and Timberville and the vision of a multi-use trail from Broadway to Strasburg was born. The group of interested citizens reached out to the two regional planning district commissions and in 2019, a half-day summit was held to share the vision of a trail, now proposed to connect ten communities in two counties.
In 2019, a partnership between the ten localities, the two regional planning district commissions and four community nonprofits was formalized in the Shenandoah Valley Rail Trail Exploratory Partnership and a volunteer Project Director was appointed. The group collectively raised money to fund an Economic Impact Analysis Study to gauge how a trail might enhance the towns and counties it would pass through. The Partnership also was awarded a National Park Service grant giving us access to an experienced community and project organizer to help map the steps needed to take to get from a unused rail line to the Partnership‘s vision of a 38.5-mile long multi-use rail-trail.
In June of 2020, the Partnership got word that use of a 10-mile section of rail from Strasburg to Front Royal was to be discontinued, expanding the possibility of the Shenandoah Valley Rail Trail to 48.5 miles. With support from local lawmakers, in August, legislation was adopted that directed the Department of Conservation and Recreation to conduct a feasibility study of the project to determine exactly what would go in to making the trail a reality.
And that brings us to now, where really the next step is to hear from you! We want input from a broad swath of the community so that we can build the best possible resource for the communities along the route. We’ll be reaching out with opportunities to share your thoughts and ideas soon.
Banner image is of the rail trestle crossing the North Fork of the Shenandoah River in Timberville adjacent to Memorial Park. Credit: Ben Cunningham, Alleghany Blue Ridge Alliance